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Did My Bestselling Book Turn Out to Be a Financial Failure?

2024年7月15日 20:51

It’s now been two years since the release of my book Building a Second Brain. It has already reached and surpassed every goal I had for it, with 250,000 worldwide sales and many new countries and languages still to come.

On this occasion, however, I want to answer a longstanding question that is only just starting to come into focus: Has the success of this book grown the underlying business?

This was one of the most important rationales I had for writing a mainstream, traditionally published book in the first place (which I first formulated in March 2019) – to create a “loss leader” and promotional vehicle for the other products our company sells, such as courses.

With two years of hindsight and data, we can start to arrive at some answers. Let’s approach it through a series of questions.

Did the book grow our audience?

My first hypothesis was that the success of my book would significantly grow our audience. Looking at the growth trajectory of our email list over the past five years allows us to compare the period before the book and after it (the vertical line is the book’s publication date):

Email List Growth

The graph above shows a clear inflection point right around the time my book was released, strongly suggesting it made a big impact. 

In the two years preceding the book’s release, our email list grew by 42 new subscribers per day on average (from 16,000 to 46,000 subscribers). In the two years since the book’s release, it’s grown by 108 new subscribers per day on average (from 46,000 to 125,000).

That represents a 2.6x acceleration in new subscribers per day on average. In a timeline where the book never existed and the previous growth rate remained constant, we would have ended up with 77,000 subscribers today, instead of 125,000, which means there are 48,000 people on our email list that likely wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the book.

Looking at social media, I compared our following on each platform where we have a presence between March 2020 (when I signed the publishing contract for Building a Second Brain) to March 2024 (when I signed for my next book).

Forte Labs Audience Growth

We’ve seen tremendous growth across every platform, including 180x on LinkedIn, 147x on YouTube, 24x on Facebook, 16x on Instagram, and 13x on Twitter/X. Overall, the Forte Labs audience grew 28x over these four years, an incredible result.

In this chart showing the trajectories of each platform over the last two years, you can clearly see that they fall into three distinct groups: the low-effort platforms where we only repurpose content from elsewhere (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), the high-effort platforms we focus on (Twitter/X and the newsletter), and then YouTube, which stands on its own due to the power of the algorithm in continuously finding new audiences for our videos.

Forte Labs Audience Size

I can definitively say that my book succeeded in massively growing our audience. There were several additional factors, such as the major investments we made into YouTube over the same time period, and pandemic-fueled growth, but I still conclude that most of this wouldn’t have happened in the absence of my book.

Next, I’ll turn my attention to whether all those new followers and subscribers actually led to growth in the underlying business.

What is our audience worth?

Although there are a lot of intangible or difficult-to-measure benefits of writing a bestselling book, the one I’m interested in most is the financial return-on-investment. If the numbers don’t make sense, then everything else is a wash.

If there are 48,000 subscribers on our email list who wouldn’t be there otherwise, I wanted to calculate how much revenue they would theoretically add to the business. I know our Lifetime Customer Value is $720, so assuming we can convert 10% of those subscribers to customers, that suggests $3.4 million dollars in potential revenue.

Now, realizing that potential revenue is an entirely different question. In late 2023, we stopped offering live cohorts, which were our primary revenue source up until then. This made it significantly harder to monetize all those new followers, forcing us to depend on lower-priced products such as self-paced courses.

Looking at the onboarding survey for those courses, the main ways people found out about us are YouTube (this includes other people’s channels as well as our own), and in second place, my books.

Where did people hear about us

Cross-referencing these referral numbers with our course sales over the past couple years indicates that about $486,000 of our revenue came by way of books, which suggests that we’ve only successfully realized 14% of the potential revenue of this new, larger audience.

Did my bestselling book turn out to be a financial failure?

My strategy with the BASB book was to treat it as a “loss leader” in favor of monetizing via courses, and now I have the chance to determine whether that’s panned out.

Looking only at the book itself, we’ve spent $1.13 million dollars ($570,000 on staff costs plus $560,000 on everything else) on its creation and promotion so far. On the revenue side, book advances have added up to $498,000, and if we add another $486,000 in course referrals, that adds up to $984,000 in total book-related revenue. Which means five years after the start of the project and two years since publication, we’ve yet to break even and are still about $146,000 in the red.

Adding YouTube to the picture, we’ve made $840,000 (via Google AdSense, sponsored videos, and course referrals) and spent $576,000, for a profit of $264,000. Our YouTube videos have been both funded by book revenue and inspired by the content of the book, so I doubt this performance would have been possible without the book. Considering the book and YouTube channel together, they’ve made $1.8M and cost $1.7M, slightly more than breaking even.

The great confounding factor in this entire analysis is that we are in the midst of an “online course winter,” as the immense surge of enthusiasm for everything digital that the pandemic unleashed is now giving way to an exodus, as people want to spend their time and money elsewhere. Nearly all course creators I know are struggling, and in a couple of years, we may see all these numbers turn around.

But if I’m being brutally honest with myself, the financial picture of my book has thus far been pretty mediocre. 

Despite its runaway success in terms of copies sold, I made three major mistakes that are making it difficult for us to capitalize on that success:

  1. I spent too much money in the leadup and initial launch of the book, putting us deep into a financial hole that is now taking a long time to climb out of (I probably should have been more conservative with my spending and investments from the beginning).
  2. We killed our flagship program and main source of revenue just as our following was exploding (it probably would have been better to change and adapt the live cohort-based course to the needs of readers, rather than killing it completely).
  3. We didn’t create a clear pathway from reading the book to taking a course that picked up where it left off (our self-paced Foundation course is largely an alternative to the book in video form).

Essentially, I assumed and hoped that the “rising tide” of the book would “lift all boats” in the business, but without a clear pathway to a profitable course, and no funds held in reserve that would have helped us to build that pathway, we’ve been unable to translate much of the flood of interest we’ve received into profitability.

The big open question for the future is whether subsequent books will change this equation. I’ve already noticed that the short follow-up companion The PARA Method, which I released just a year after Building a Second Brain, has been almost pure profit, since it takes advantage of all the infrastructure and the following created by the first book and thus required very little new spending. 

My next book, on the practice of annual life reviews, will come out in the fall of 2026 and represent my first major title since BASB, and thus the first true test of whether my book writing efforts can be profitable long term.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Did My Bestselling Book Turn Out to Be a Financial Failure? appeared first on Forte Labs.

Rewriting My Financial Story: How I Healed My Relationship with Money

2024年7月1日 21:24

I recently attended a 3-day intensive program designed to shift people’s attitudes toward money, hosted by executive coach and teacher Joe Hudson and his team.

I didn’t really know what I was in for. I went mostly to accompany my wife Lauren, who said she needed a new perspective on money and thought I might get something out of it too.

What I got was so much more profound and multi-faceted than I ever could have imagined: a deep understanding of where my mindset toward money came from, how it has shaped my life and my decisions, and how to change it to serve me better.

The origins of my story about money

Like everything in life, my stories about money began when I was a child. As the program unfolded and we spent hours examining our most deep-seated memories and beliefs toward the subject, I slowly began to uncover three core pillars of my financial mindset.

Core pillar #1: We have enough money, but I don’t deserve it

In my earliest years, I received two conflicting messages about money: the first, that we had enough of it and therefore didn’t need to worry about it.

I knew my grandfather had been a successful entrepreneur and left us with a comfortable inheritance. In my family, we always talked openly about his legacy, how much he left to us, and how we planned to manage and invest it.

The second story was that we needed to be frugal. My father was a professional artist, supporting a family of four kids in Orange County (he always reminded us), and his spending decisions reflected his constant concern for keeping us financially stable.

I reconciled these two seemingly incompatible messages by believing, “We have plenty of money, but I don’t deserve it.” In other words, I made it about me and my worth. Money became synonymous with a feeling of deservedness, approval, and love, which means I interpreted my father’s tight fist as him withholding his love from me.

As I grew up into adulthood, this subconscious story manifested itself in profligate, even wasteful, spending. I found that I could spend money on myself and instantly receive that feeling of deservedness and recognition I craved. And I didn’t have to worry about the long-term consequences, because I knew someday that sizable inheritance from my family would arrive to rescue me.

This attitude followed me throughout my 20s, and I was always on the edge of financial solvency as a result. My spending criterion was simple: if I had the money, I spent it. It almost didn’t matter what it got spent on – I wasn’t into luxury or status goods thankfully, but for travel, tech, eating out, and books and courses, I spared no expense.

But something changed in 2020 at the start of the COVID pandemic: I began making a lot of money for the first time in my life. The worldwide lockdowns created immense demand for the kind of course I’d been teaching for several years at that point, and I was perfectly positioned to reap ten-fold growth in the business.

This may seem like a fairytale ending, the perfect resolution for my chronic overspending. In reality, it exaggerated my existing habits and made my finances even worse. 

The rapidly growing balance of my bank account only meant I had even more to spend, and spend I did, on everything from hiring employees and contractors to expensive video production gear to buying cryptocurrency. It was all so easy to justify in the name of “investing in future growth” and preparing for a glorious future in which our revenue would continue to grow at the same rate for years to come.

Well, it didn’t. And starting in mid-2022 our sales began a free fall. The online course market was rapidly evolving as many other live, cohort-based courses flooded the market. The end of the pandemic meant people wanted to socialize and get out of the house, not sit at their computers on Zoom. We cannibalized our own sales by publishing our previously exclusive content in multiple forms for cheap or free. I had over-hired and over-invested, and suddenly there was no underlying business to justify it all.

Looking back with a couple of years of hindsight, there was a specific moment when my stance toward money caught up to me. It was the moment I had to lay off half the team at short notice. People I cared about suddenly lost jobs they loved, lost their health insurance, and had to scramble to support their families. This was the moment that I realized my attitude toward money wasn’t just affecting me; it was hurting many others.

The cycle of shame was complete: in trying to spend money to feel worthy and deserving, I’d wasted it, leading to a self-fulfilling future in which I felt like a failure who was even less worthy or deserving.

Core pillar #2: It’s shameful to care too much about money

There was another memory that vividly came to mind as we began the weekend: I was about 10 years old, standing by our backdoor in my parent’s house, next to my father, and I told him offhand that I didn’t want to worry about money – I just wanted to earn “enough to pay the bills” and spend my time doing work I cared about.

I know this was a core memory because I can remember feeling shocked by the strength of my father’s response: he replied sharply that it was irresponsible and dangerous to not care about money. In that moment, I realized that I had believed up until that point that my father didn’t care about money, and that was why he conserved it so much. I had expected a nod of approval when I said I also didn’t care about it. His sharp response made me see that it was in fact the opposite: he cared about it quite a bit because its presence or absence determined whether he was allowed to pursue his art full time, or would be forced to make money in other ways.

In retrospect, my takeaway from that conversation was that my father cared too much about money, and therefore I wasn’t going to care about it at all. The belief I internalized was: “It’s shameful to think about, worry about, or grub after money.” 

Frugality took on a negative connotation in my mind, associated with such words as “small-minded,” “fearful,” and “selfish.” It felt to me like retreating from life, like missing out on life’s pleasures. As a result I developed a judgment toward anyone who was too frugal: careful investors who analyzed every investment option, budgeters who meticulously tracked their expenses, and penny-pinchers who spent time clipping coupons or going to garage sales.

Looking back, I can see that overspending was my subconscious way of trying to escape the scarcity and fear I so strongly associated with saving money. The entire world of finances felt constrictive and limiting to me, and therefore I did everything in my power to avoid it. That included refusing to make or follow a budget, save or invest for the future, or create a financial plan.

In other words, I formed a domination relationship with money: either I dominate it or it dominates me. The main way I tried to dominate it was by refusing to give it attention, or time, and starving it of oxygen. Once in a while, when it ran out and became an emergency, I was forced to give it my attention, but only begrudgingly.

Core pillar #3: Money is easy to make

The previous two beliefs – that spending money was a way to feel loved and that it was wrong to conserve it or give it too much attention – might have led me to financial ruin, except for the third pillar of my relationship with money: that it was easy to make.

I found early on that I had a gift for entrepreneurship, probably inherited from my grandfather and great-great grandfather.

In a weird way, this third pillar both justified and amplified the previous two. I could afford to keep spending like crazy because I knew there was always more where that came from. And I could afford not to manage and cultivate my money too carefully because again, I had a way to replenish my reserves despite all the gaping leaks.

However, as long as I kept spending my money as fast as I made it, I was stuck in place. I couldn’t grow my business significantly, or outsource or delegate key functions, or invest in automation or scale. At various points in my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve had to face the fact that I am a highly-paid employee of my own company, not the owner of a true business that I can step away from.

The bottleneck on my entrepreneurial growth has never been my ability to generate revenue – it has always been my ability to generate a profit, and a crucial component of that is ensuring our expenses remain in check.

Owning my projections onto money

One of the main frameworks we used during the weekend was to treat money as if we had a real relationship with it, almost like a person. That included all the aspects of any complex, long-term relationship: past hurts and resentments, pent up rage or disappointment, recurring unhealthy patterns, as well as unexpressed love and gratitude.

This also meant that we had projections toward money, and the single most powerful exercise for me involved owning those projections. 

A projection can be understood as a defense mechanism in which someone unconsciously attributes their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or traits to another person. It’s a ubiquitous feature of human psychology, a tool we use to avoid acknowledging undesirable aspects of ourselves (and thus avoid feeling the associated emotions) by perceiving them in others instead. It’s like judging a painting for its flaws without realizing it is in fact a mirror.

We went around the circle apologizing to money for the qualities we had projected onto it, and embracing those same qualities in ourselves instead. After a few fairly tame ones, and as my next turn approached, I began to feel an intense wrenching feeling in my gut. Tears began to pour freely from my eyes before it was even clear what I was going to say. As my turn began, I found myself saying to the others around the circle, as if with a voice that wasn’t mine, “This is the hard one guys. I’m going to need your help…”

What followed was one of the most intense and unexpected physical reactions I’ve ever had in such a setting. My whole body began shuddering, my feet stomping on the floor as I hopped up and down in my chair. Suddenly I began breathing rapidly, with sharp in and out breaths like I was running up a hill. I felt unable to speak at first, and instead made a series of animal-like growling, whimpering, and shouting noises. At one point I burst into hysterical high-pitched crying that lasted only a few seconds before abruptly stopping. I kept trying to meet the eyes of the others around the circle, but each time I encountered their gaze, my body would react again.

I remember watching all of this unfold like a spectator, my internal witness in awe of my body’s capacity to integrate a new perspective at the somatic level. I believe that’s what was happening: my body was wrestling and writhing with an idea the way a boa constrictor might wrestle with prey, or the way a woman might give birth. I knew that my ability to allow all this to happen, to let my body do what it needed to do without (too much) fear or self-judgment, was the culmination of years of work on my part. What I mostly felt was pride.

Eventually, once my body had completed its process, I was able to complete the sentence: that I had projected onto money that only it had the capacity to make change in the world, when in fact, that was just a way of avoiding facing the reality that it was me who had that capacity.

I couldn’t quite believe that this was the sentence that most triggered and confronted me. It felt almost cliche, like a motivational slogan. But in saying it again and again, each time a little more integrated and heartfelt, it dawned on me that I had never fully accepted this possibility. 

I’d spent much of the last decade trying as hard as I could to make a positive impact, from teaching English in South America to working in microfinance in Colombia to volunteering in the Peace Corps in Ukraine to starting an education business on the Internet. This endless striving came from an insatiable need to make a difference, to feel like my life mattered. 

I’d spent years proclaiming from the rooftops, via various globe-spanning online platforms, that I was making a difference. I’d documented and displayed the evidence proving to everyone I was making a difference, had harangued my team that we needed to make more of a difference, and plotted ever more grandiose plans to make an even bigger difference in the future. 

And yet, as I was smashing down the gas pedal on “making a difference,” I was simultaneously smashing the brake with the other foot, refusing to truly let in the evidence and the feeling that I was already doing so. The feeling that my mere existence, my life, made a difference, and that I didn’t need to justify it to anyone.

This was the feeling that I had to use every bodily movement to let in: that the central driving purpose of my life had been fulfilled, and in fact was always already fulfilled. I had created the story that “I wasn’t worthy” in order to make sense of the world as a child, but since that gaping hole inside of me was created by me, it was only me who could fill it, not any external form of achievement or recognition.

Inheriting my family’s attitude toward money

Another major theme for me during the program was coming to terms with the ways my family’s attitude toward money over the generations had been passed down to me.

First, and most immediately apparent, was a deep feeling that I didn’t deserve to be the recipient of all the sacrifices they’d made. Perhaps this was the true source of my sense of undeservedness, which I had interpreted as coming from my father. 

I know a lot about all four strands of our family line because my mom is an avid genealogical researcher. 

We know about the 17th-century religious wars our ancestors got caught up in as French Protestants, the persecution and discrimination they fled by escaping to the Netherlands and then the UK, the difficulty of traveling across the Atlantic to Canada only to face more discrimination, the harsh years they survived as immigrants in upstate New York, and the many tragedies and hardships they endured from car accidents to fatal illnesses to broken marriages.

I know all the vivid details of how they struggled to make ends meet, and what they had to give up to provide for their families. All that information has often felt like a gigantic burden on my shoulders: Who am I to be the beneficiary of so much pain and sacrifice? 

Paradoxically, having “enough” money has sometimes felt like it creates a sense of intense urgency, because I have no excuse to not realize my dreams and goals.

I realized I’d adopted a strange mindset as a result: that if I worked hard my entire life, maybe, just maybe at the end of it, I would deserve the money I’d received at the beginning. It was as if I placed the feeling of deservedness and worthiness at the end of a long road, and told myself I had no choice but to walk it. In other words, I would have to work just as hard to “deserve” the wealth I already had as if I never had it in the first place! This is what’s known as a “double bind” – a pair of contradictory beliefs held in place to ensure you can never win.

My family’s financial prosperity has made my pursuit of meaning feel harder. It has never felt like enough for me to survive, or merely prosper. The privilege of starting life’s race at the halfway mark has led me to feel like I can’t ever complain, can’t have problems, can’t relax. I’m afraid that my efforts and sacrifices won’t mean anything. I’m afraid the (even more) money we’ll leave to our kids will make their lives feel meaningless.

Considering all this in the weeks following the program, I realized that my family never left behind the scarcity mindset toward money they had adopted through the ordeals of immigration, the Great Depression, and the World Wars. My grandfather had grown up with a conservative, working-class mindset toward money, and never truly gave it up or learned to enjoy it even as he grew a successful business. He passed his money on to my father, who also refused to spend it, and is now passing it on to me with the same mindset intact.

I don’t know what exactly will change for me as a result of this weekend program, but I do already see my place in this legacy very differently: not to continue amassing wealth with no end in sight, nor to spend it thoughtlessly like it doesn’t matter. I’m starting to perceive a middle path between those two extremes: I can use the financial capacity that’s been passed down to me to heal the pain that gave rise to it in the first place. The privilege I embrace is the privilege of healing my family’s relationship to money, and moving us out of the realm of scarcity and fear for generations to come.

I can summarize my family’s attitude toward money as “Money is fine as long as we have enough of it.” I can see and appreciate how important that simple heuristic has been to help us survive through the centuries and across continents. I can also see that at some point, that becomes a limiting belief, because there is more to money than merely having enough. There are deeper and more subtle questions that I now have the freedom to explore, such as how I can invest that money and honor my ancestors’ sacrifice while still honoring my own life.

If you’d like to explore this kind of personal development work for yourself, check out the various courses and workshops offered by Joe Hudson’s company The Art of Accomplishment. You can also join their newsletter to hear about the programs they offer year-round, including one-time retreats like the one I attended, which are only open to course graduates. 

To give you a taste of what it’s like to work with Joe, he has shared excerpts from his coaching sessions related to money, including how to make money doing what you love and how to feel financially safe. I can also recommend the following episodes of the Art of Accomplishment podcast:

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Rewriting My Financial Story: How I Healed My Relationship with Money appeared first on Forte Labs.

Digital Attention Spans: AI as a Source of Infinite Patience

2024年6月17日 16:03

I recently came across a Substack post by Venkatesh Rao called Oozy Intelligence in Slow Time that was one of the most insightful I’ve ever read for understanding the nature of Artificial Intelligence.

We tend to think of Artificial Intelligence as being in an arms race with Human Intelligence. Which one is smarter? When will AI surpass us?

But there is a hidden assumption buried in that comparison: that intelligence is best measured by its peak moments – the flash of brilliance, the sudden epiphany, the intellectual breakthrough.

Rao suggests that we look instead at a completely different aspect of intelligence: how much it costs.

Human intelligence is tremendously costly. Most of our time is spent simply maintaining this high-performance machine we call our body. Eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming, socializing, resting, etc. can all be seen as “overhead costs” needed to merely keep us alive.

Because it costs so much just to function each day, every minute of focused attention we spend requires a certain return-on-investment to be justified. We are constantly making choices to maximize that “return” on our attention: Do I spend the next 30 minutes working out, or cleaning the kitchen? Do I spend today working on this project, or that project?

Activities that don’t meet our threshold for “required return” don’t get our attention, plain and simple. This can be understood as a kind of “minimum wage” that our brain must earn, otherwise it refuses to work. 

We make this calculation fairly seamlessly any time we consider engaging in an activity:

  • We might be willing to spend 10 minutes reading an interesting article, but not if it takes 30 minutes (“too long, didn’t read”).
  • We might be willing to drive 20 minutes to eat at an exciting new restaurant, but not if it takes an hour.
  • If you buy an appliance for your home that costs $20, but you spent 2 hours reading reviews and evaluating the options, the return on that purchase is lower than if you had instead received and acted on a trusted recommendation from a friend

This is part of what makes learning anything new so challenging: you have to spend lots and lots of time, with little return on that investment, in order to gain some future reward that isn’t even guaranteed. It’s akin to investing a lot of money into something without knowing if it will ever pay you back.

Another way of defining the “minimum wage threshold” for our brains is patience.

Rao asks: “How often are you in the mood to do boring, tedious, bureaucratic tasks (such as filling out forms, doing your taxes, or opening postal mail)?”

His answer, and mine, is: not often. It’s not that I don’t have the time for such tasks. It’s not that I’m not smart enough or don’t know how to complete them. The problem is that they require too much patience (i.e. they fail to meet my brain’s minimum wage threshold). I thus “can’t afford” to spend my attention on them, and instead tend to put them off for as long as humanly possible, usually until some catastrophic consequence becomes threatening enough that I have no choice.

If you think about it, there are many such tasks that would produce immense benefits for us, if we just had the patience to do them:

  • Spending hundreds of hours learning a new language or how to code
  • Reviewing every note you’ve taken over the last few years for buried ideas or insights
  • Organizing all your personal contacts in a searchable Notion database

These kinds of tasks involving collecting, organizing, summarizing, formatting, and reviewing information would be tremendously valuable if we did them, but often fall into the “requires too much patience” category for most people.

This is where AI becomes so powerful. AI effectively lowers the patience threshold to almost nothing. There is no task that is too boring, too mundane, too repetitive, or “beneath its dignity.” Unlike us, grinding away on such tasks doesn’t annoy it, ruin its motivation, give it a bad attitude, or make it angry at us. It is a dutiful employee requiring a minimum wage of virtually zero.

This is a very different way of understanding AI’s value. It’s not AI’s superintelligence or blazing speed that make it valuable to us: it’s AI’s patience in completing an endless series of tedious tasks that are too far below our patience threshold for us to justify doing at all.

Our attention is expensive, and thus can only be spent on activities with a clear outcome that can be achieved in a predictable amount of time. Whereas AI has an almost infinite amount of attention that is so cheap it can be spent lavishly, even wastefully, on activities that would never be worth our time. We can afford to spend this newly abundant form of intelligence on tasks that are below the minimum wage our brains are willing to work for.

The two components of patience

If we stopped here, this would mean that the main use for AI is completing our boring to-do lists for us. But there’s a level deeper to consider, because patience has two components that can be separated: time and detail.

As you toil away filing your taxes, for example, there are two factors that determine how much patience it takes: the level of detail that you’re required to process and the time it takes to do so. It is the combination of many complex details you have to process over a long span of time that makes taxes so excruciating.

The crucial thing to understand is that we have a minimum AND maximum threshold for BOTH the time we’re willing to spend and the number of details we’re willing to process:

  • If it takes too much time, we get impatient and opt out (think of a movie where not enough is happening to hold your attention)
  • If it doesn’t take enough time, we get overwhelmed and opt out (think of a short-form video that is so fast it’s aggravating to watch)
  • If it presents too much detail, we get frustrated and opt out (think of a book going way too deep into a technical topic you don’t understand)
  • If it presents not enough detail, we get bored and opt out (think of a children’s book with not enough complexity to be interesting to us)

In other words, as humans, we have a clearly defined “window of attention” that limits what we’re able to pay attention to for long periods. Our attention span is an actual span with clear limits. Anything outside of that – that either moves too slowly or too quickly, that demands too much of our brains or too little – is tremendously expensive for us to attend to.

When you say “I don’t have patience for that,” you’re not saying you don’t have enough time. You’re really saying “That is below the level of detail I can sustainably process at the required rate.”

Thomas Carlyle once said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” The word “pain” is informative in this sense – it is actually painful for us to stay outside our window of attention for long. The brain has a “focal length” it is comfortable with, like our eyes, and that attention span evolved for chasing and hunting down an animal about our own size, or picking fruit from trees; anything outside of that feels unnatural and painful for us.

Default window of human attention

This might seem like a discouraging and even fatalistic view of human potential: there are just some things we can pay attention to, and some we can’t.

But there’s another detail that Rao highlights here: that time and detail interact and influence each other. They are not independent variables: changing one actually changes the other.

Consider that looking at a raindrop with your naked eye might be boring, but if you zoom in with a microscope, you’ll see millions of microorganisms blooming and buzzing in stunning diversity. The classic example of “watching paint dry” would be terribly exciting if you could zoom in to the molecular level and watch the symphony of chemical reactions playing out.

In other words, the more you zoom in, the faster things are happening. The rate at which time passes for you depends partially on how much information you can take in. It’s not that time is actually speeding up or slowing down – your perception of time is speeding up or slowing down, and that perception is strongly influenced by how much detail and complexity you can take in and process.

Considering this idea, perhaps it is not people’s intelligence that limits what they can pay attention to and learn: it is their patience. And what limits their patience is not some stoic quality of their character, but their ability to zoom in and take in enough detail that reality feels interesting.

This also changes our view of what exceptionally patient people are doing. It’s not that they have some inner reserve of steely endurance – it’s that they’re better at operating at a level of detail where things happen faster.

The gardener absorbed in the intricacies of trimming a bonsai tree, or the basketball player shooting hundreds of free throws in one practice session, or the chess grandmaster playing through dozens of alternatives of a match – maybe these people aren’t abnormally patient; they’re just better at zooming in to a level of detail in their craft that the full bandwidth of their attention can be occupied.

We tend to think of patience as primarily a moral virtue, alongside work ethic, honesty, integrity, and empathy. What if instead we removed the moral framing, and thought of it instead as a side effect of the way we consume information?

AI could be used to tweak and tune information with the goal of fitting it into our preferred window of attention. Instead of treating the content we consume as one-size-fits-all, we could use AI to modify that content so that it’s at the right speed and the right level of detail such that it feels captivating and enlivening for us to pay attention to.

If a piece of content is too detailed, we can ask AI to summarize and distill it for us in ways that a novice can understand. If a piece of content is not detailed enough, we can ask AI to elaborate and add more sources and examples.

If a piece of content is coming at you too fast, you can ask AI to slow it down, break it into chunks, and give it to you one piece at a time. If it’s coming too slowly, you can ask it to move faster and progress to more advanced topics sooner.

I can foresee a future in which we rarely consume a given piece of content without changing it to suit our preferred window of attention. A future in which we run all our content through an AI curator who refines and modifies it to fit how our brains work. Not doing so will feel like buying a pair of shoes without trying them on for size.

In that future, patience won’t be considered a moral virtue – it will be considered a failure to properly utilize the tools at our disposal to customize our experience according to our needs.

If you’d like to read the Substack post by Venkatesh Rao called Oozy Intelligence in Slow Time yourself, click here. I can also recommend Matt Webb’s article Intelligence Too Cheap to Meter on this topic.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Digital Attention Spans: AI as a Source of Infinite Patience appeared first on Forte Labs.

The Creative Power of Procrastination

2024年6月4日 03:14

Creativity is often described as an elusive, even magical, phenomenon. In reality, it’s a skill – and there are many ways to prime your brain to be more creative. 

Surprisingly, one of them is procrastination. We generally think of procrastination as a bad habit, a mental hurdle we need to overcome. But research shows that delaying and postponing tasks can actually stimulate creative thinking — provided the conditions are just right. 

Let’s look at the techniques that can turn procrastination into one of your most creative habits.

An honest look at procrastination

Procrastination stems from our urge to flee the discomfort of an unwanted task. In the brain, this plays out as a war between our logical prefrontal cortex — responsible for decision-making — and our hasty, pleasure-seeking limbic system. When the limbic system wins, we rebel against the undesirable task and choose the temporary dopamine hit of procrastination instead. 

Some of us are better equipped than others to fend off the urge to procrastinate. The volume of the amygdala — part of the brain’s limbic system and responsible for processing our motivations, fears, senses, and emotions — influences our likelihood to procrastinate, and its size comes down to genetics

However, it is possible to escape an inherited tendency to procrastinate: studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation can change the size of the amygdala over time. But what if you didn’t need to eliminate procrastination, and you could harness its creative benefits instead? 

Procrastination and creativity: different sides of the same equation

To create anything meaningful, we need to allow our minds to wander freely. As multi-award-winning director Aaron Sorkin once quipped: “You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.”

We may achieve our biggest creative breakthroughs when we throw off the mental constraints of a preordained task and follow our inner curiosity, but we can’t leave procrastination unchecked. If we do, the tasks we’re avoiding will still be waiting for us, accompanied by the guilt and the pressure of lost time.  For chronic procrastinators, it’s even worse: they have higher levels of stress and illness, and produce lower-quality work. 

Moderation is crucial. Researchers primed three groups of volunteers for different levels of procrastination and found that those who procrastinated moderately — delaying an assigned task for an average of 25% of their allotted time to complete it — generated higher-quality creative ideas. However, volunteers with high or low levels of procrastination (respectively, procrastinating for averages of 40% and 4% of their time) didn’t reap the same benefits

How do we hit this sweet spot? Through active procrastination, which means installing guardrails and optimizing the conditions for creativity.

How to stimulate creativity through active procrastination

Time-boxing, setting intentions, and choosing a procrastination activity can help you reap the full creative benefits of procrastination. Here’s how…


Shame is a common emotion when people procrastinate, but self-blame can sap your ability to be creative. Instead, build the habit of being compassionate to yourself when you procrastinate. The process of resetting how you think about procrastination takes time and effort, as you’re attempting to form new neural pathways — but by continually refocusing your thoughts on compassion, blame will cease to be the default emotion. 

When you feel the itch to abandon a task, observe the warring forces in your brain. You’re starting to procrastinate, and that’s OK because you’re about to maximize the benefits through active procrastination.  


Distractions are common triggers for procrastination, as they give us an excuse to leap between multiple tasks without fully engaging in any of them. This is passive procrastination, and it’s the antithesis of procrastinating creatively. 

Rather than letting your mind play, you’re being controlled by inbound stimuli like emails and Slack notifications. The urge to respond to these cues can be hard to resist — and the rush of dopamine when we give in can trap us in a neverending reactivity loop.

Reactivity Loop

To fend off passive procrastination, you need to make a conscious decision about what you’re consuming. Escape the reactivity loop by changing your response: instead of instantly consuming content presented to you by others, cut the loop by saving the content for later. For example, if it’s email that usually sends you into reactivity mode, a tool like SaneBox can help you remove distractions: you can snooze emails for later or consign them to the SaneBlackHole (a folder that you can train over time to collect your unwanted email). 


If you have multiple projects, you can delay one by working on the other. Philosopher John Perry calls this structured procrastination, and it allows you to give in to the delicious feeling of avoiding your intended task while you make progress on something else. You might even find unexpected touchpoints: switching between different projects, aka “slow-motion multitasking,” is how some of the world’s greatest innovators sharpened their multidisciplinary ideas. 


Building a habit when your mind starts to wander — like journaling, online puzzles, or an art project — can be an incredible way to get you “unstuck” from your current project by engaging different parts of your brain. Scientists speculate that switching to a second task forces you to clear your brain of information, allowing you to approach the first task from a fresh perspective when you return to it.

Whatever your chosen procrastination activity, time-boxing can ensure you keep within the limits of moderate procrastination. Give yourself 15 minutes, or even an hour, to explore wherever your restless brain is trying to take you. 

Time limits are especially important if your procrastination activity is browsing online, otherwise, you can slip back into the reactivity loop — see the next step for ways to interrupt the cycle.


If procrastination leads you to engrossing Reddit threads or you risk descending into a YouTube spiral, you need to be able to stop when your time is up. It’s easier to cut yourself off if you use a capture tool to add content to a read-later app (we recommend Reader by Readwise), so you can consume it at a different time. 

Later on, if you find the content useful but don’t quite know what to do with it (yet), you can use the PARA Method to add it into your knowledge management system, aka your Second brain (here’s how to choose a suitable app). This way, you can let your ideas simmer and mentally set aside your procrastination material for when you’re ready to return to it. In the meantime, you can go back to your original task with a newly playful and creative brain.

With these techniques, procrastination can transform from a time-wasting hindrance into a game-changing creative tool. Understand the neuroscience behind this common habit, reframe your mindset, and implement procrastination strategies — you’ll see your creativity flourish in unexpected ways.

This article is a guest post from our friends at SaneBox

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post The Creative Power of Procrastination appeared first on Forte Labs.

New Book, New Strategy: The 7 Main Things I’m Doing Differently for the Annual Review Book

2024年5月20日 20:28

I recently announced my next major book project: a book on how to complete a year-end life review as a ritual for self-reflection and growth.

I’ve had an annual review practice in some form since 2008, and I can’t think of anything else that has more dramatically impacted my life in that time. I can’t wait to bring this practice, which has existed for a long time among CEOs, executives, heads of state, and creatives, to the wider world.

The first question I’m asking myself as I embark on this years-long journey is, “What do I want to do differently from last time?” 

I’ve documented the process of writing and publishing my previous book, Building a Second Brain (BASB), in great detail, partly so that I can now look back and take stock of what worked and what didn’t.

Here are the 7 strategic decisions I’m making differently this time and why.

1. Think on a 5-year time horizon

The sheer timescale at which traditionally published books operate continues to astound me. As of now, it’s been 5.5 years since I started working on the proposal for BASB, and 2 years since its release in the US – nothing else in my life operates on this timescale.

We recently crossed an incredible milestone – 200,000 copies sold – and yet I still feel that the journey of the book is in its early stages. It’s tempting when embarking on an endeavor like this to focus only on the initial launch, but I’ve learned that it’s critical to think on at least a 5-year timescale.

What kind of book do I want to still be talking about and promoting 5 years from now? What do I want to spend my time thinking about and working on throughout that time? Given that I only have so many 5-year stretches in my career, how do I want to use them?

These are the kinds of questions I asked myself when deciding which book to write next, and vanishingly few topics made the cut. But now that I’ve chosen the most promising one, I’m going to make all subsequent decisions from the perspective of what makes sense on a 5-10-year time horizon.

2. Move toward more intuitive right-brain thinking

For BASB, I made a strong effort to move away from language and concepts that were overly technical, abstract, or rooted in the tech world. I had developed a lot of my thinking while immersed in Silicon Valley, and I knew I needed to broaden my language to appeal to a much more mainstream audience.

Yet even with that effort, the book is still quite skewed toward readers who are relatively tech-savvy. The idea of creating an external repository of personal information in digital form still appeals mainly to people who already think about how to use their technology more effectively.

With my new topic of year-end reviews, I want to continue this shift from a primarily left-brain, analytical lens to a more right-brain, holistic, intuitive, and emotional lens. I want to continue expanding my niche from a small hardcore group of productivity nerds to wider audiences centered around existing habits like journaling, mindfulness, goal-setting, and planning.

This shift will need to be reflected in everything from the words I use to the colors and design of the book’s branding, to the marketing materials we create, to the way I talk about the subject in podcast interviews.

3. Sprints, not marathons

Looking back on the whole experience of writing my first book, one of the most stressful aspects was the ever-present feeling that I had to be making progress on the book at all times

Logically I knew that’s impossible – a lot of time is needed for rest and recovery, for family and friends, and for other projects at work. Yet that feeling remained, at the back of my mind, like a subtle pressure against my brain, constantly questioning why I wasn’t advancing on at least one front. Writing a book might feel like a marathon, but even a marathon takes place in a series of shorter sprints!

Something else has changed since last time as well: I have far more responsibilities. 2020 and 2021 were ideal times to write a book in many ways, with the pandemic shutting down the world and our new baby sleeping the days away. Now I have two young kids, a household to manage, and a larger, more complex business with a lot of projects happening in parallel. Oh, we’re also moving to Mexico in a few months!

For all these reasons, I plan on concentrating my writing time in a series of month-long sprints, with the in-between months dedicated to research, gathering feedback, and recovery. For example, my first sprint will be the entire month of June 2024, followed by two months off, and then again in September, with another two months off, and finally in December as work slows down for the holidays. 

I’m hoping this schedule will serve as a forcing function to allow me to completely set aside all my other work duties during the “on” months, leaning on the team to manage the business while I’m away, and then decisively turning off that part of my brain during the “off” months.

4. Recruit beta readers for feedback

My last two books were directly based on a cohort-based course I taught for 6 years, starting in 2016. Several thousand people completed it, and I therefore had a treasure trove of feedback, examples, case studies, and intelligence about what worked and what didn’t.

I’ve been teaching a workshop called The Annual Review since 2019, and over 600 people have taken it, but I have significantly less research this time around. I’ve also not really communicated my ideas about year-end reviews in written form before, except through publishing my own personal reviews.

This time around I’d like to try an approach I’ve seen many successful authors take: recruiting a group of “beta” readers to review the early manuscript and give me direct, specific feedback about which parts resonate and which need to be changed or removed.

5. Only our core platforms matter

Looking back at the numerous marketing efforts we made leading up to and following the last book’s release, I’m left with a sobering conclusion: it is really only our core platforms (which for us are the email newsletter, YouTube, and X) that truly make a difference in the scale of a book’s success.

By this, I mean both their size (the number of followers or subscribers) and just as if not more importantly, the quality of my relationship with those people. Do they like what I have to say? Do they trust me? Are they hungry for more from me?

I recently sat down to analyze Forte Labs’ audience growth since my last book was acquired in March 2020: in 4 years we’ve grown our audience an astounding 28x, from about 20,000 followers to 550,000 across all platforms:

Forte Labs Audience Growth

Most of this growth is due to the two books I’ve published in that time, as well as the strong growth of our YouTube channel, both of which have also fueled growth in our email list (the vertical line below represents the date my BASB book was released, creating a clear inflection point in the long-term growth rate of our email list that has persisted to this day):

Last time, we didn’t really have the option of relying solely on my own audience. It just wasn’t big enough. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to bootstrap an audience almost from scratch but looking back, the return-on-investment for those efforts was pretty marginal.

This time around, I’m going to invest all our time, energy, and money into simply growing our audience, which ultimately means more and better blog posts, YouTube videos, social posts, and newsletter content. This offers an additional benefit: once the release is all over, we’re left with the greatest prize of all –  a larger and more engaged audience ready to receive whatever we do next.

6. Create tighter integration with courses

Over the past year, we made a tremendous effort to diversify our sources of revenue away from cohort-based courses. A year ago we made 95%+ of our revenue from cohorts alone, and today none of it comes from cohorts since we’ve stopped offering them altogether.

It was a longer and more difficult transition than I expected, but we now have a much more balanced business based on 5 main sources of revenue: self-paced courses, books, ads and sponsorships, affiliate commissions, and our new flagship, the Second Brain Membership.

For BASB, despite the fact that the book was based on a course, we didn’t do a good job of integrating the book with our courses. This was partly because the live, cohort-based version only took place at certain times of the year, and was about 66x as expensive as the book (or $999), which made it difficult to seamlessly bring book readers into it unless they happened to subscribe to our newsletter.

Even when we came out with a pre-recorded, self-paced version of the BASB course about a year after the book’s release, it too closely reflected the book’s contents, making it seem like a mere rehashing of the same material except in video form (and still at about 33x the price, or $499). 

I plan on avoiding both of these errors this time, by having both a live and self-paced version of the Annual Review course (at accessible price points) ready to go by the time the book comes out, and by creating a seamless path from book to course starting right within the book itself. 

7. Go for the New York Times bestseller list

For the last book, I didn’t purposefully try to reach the NYT bestseller list, mostly because I didn’t think it was possible with my small audience and niche topic. We did reach the Wall Street Journal list, which allowed us to add the moniker “best-seller.” 

This time, however, I plan on making a serious run at the crown jewel of the publishing world: the “Advice/How-To” category within the NYT list, sometimes called the “Mt. Everest” of bestseller lists because it is so difficult to land on. I’m told this requires a specific strategy of maximizing the sale of certain formats (ebook sales don’t count for this list, for example) at specific retail locations (only some of which are included in the official count).

Contrary to a lot of online discourse, I believe bestseller lists (and other forms of demonstrating authority and credibility) absolutely do matter. Part of the “war for attention” that we all fight every day as content creators is a parallel “war for credibility.” The Internet has flooded our world with information of every level of quality, and if anything, people are more dependent than ever on signals of credibility to determine what to pay attention to and believe.

And if nothing else, this goal gives us a new, exciting mountain to climb. People do climb Mt. Everest just for the fun of it, after all.

If you’d like to stay in the know about the progress of my annual review book, sign up for our newsletter below. And if you come across any interesting ideas, material, or people related to the subject, please send it to me at hello@fortelabs.com.

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Will Artificial Intelligence Replace the Need for Second Brains Entirely?

2024年5月6日 21:01

Like so many others, I’ve spent the past year exploring and experimenting with emerging AI tools. 

Throughout that time, there has been one question I’ve been trying to answer: Will AI replace the need for Second Brains entirely?

A lot of people seem to think so, and I admittedly have a self-interested motivation: to decide whether I should continue advising people to build a Second Brain at all, or just tell them to rely on AI and save all that effort. 

After many dozens of hours of experimentation, my conclusion is that AI is not going to replace the need for a Second Brain anytime soon.

Here’s why: no matter how powerful AI becomes, the data we put into it has to come from somewhere, and the AI’s outputs have to go somewhere. A Second Brain (or whatever you want to call it) is still needed both as the repository of all those inputs and as a staging area for storing those outputs until they’re ready to be used.

What’s Changed – Organize and Distill

There is no doubt that AI is going to radically change what we think of today as the creative process.

Looking at my CODE framework representing the creative process, however, it is mostly the middle stages of Organizing and Distilling that AI is transforming.


Organizing (step #2) is the stage of the creative process that inherently adds the least value – it is only needed to prepare the ground for the subsequent stages. Thus it’s no surprise that it’s the first one to be automated by AI. 

No longer does it make sense to meticulously format your data in a perfectly organized database – instead you can just dump a morass of text into a prompt window, and AI is smart enough to understand what you intended. 

As an example, Notion has added AI to its software, allowing you to interact with and “talk to” your notes without having to spend a lot of time adding structure.

Distillation (step #3) is also a perfect fit for the rapid, emotionless decision-making of AI. Large Language Models excel at rapidly summarizing huge amounts of text at whatever level of detail you desire.

For example, in my video on using ChatGPT to summarize books, I showed how AI was able to save me dozens of hours of formerly manual work to end up with a concise, actionable book summary.

What Hasn’t Changed – Capture and Express

The first stage of the creative process – capturing information in the first place – has still hardly been touched on the other hand.

New apps like Rewind allow you to record everything that happens on your computer, but in my experience that just creates a lot of recordings to wade through.

Although some capture tasks like digitizing handwritten text have been automated, we still have to write down our thoughts and ideas in the first place!

The quality of an AI chatbot’s response is always dependent on the quality of the inputs you provide it. AI cannot (yet) go out into the world and collect its own data, so we have to do that ourselves by capturing notes, highlighting passages in books, taking pictures, and saving our favorite ideas.

The fourth and final stage of creativity, expression, also still requires a human to decide what to do with the outputs of ChatGPT and other AI tools. Someone has to put the finishing touches on the final product via their own voice, style, taste, or perspective.

My wife Lauren’s video about creating a children’s storybook using AI perfectly illustrates this point: although every major component of the final product was created by ChatGPT, it was Lauren’s direction, synthesis, and creative nudges that allowed all the parts to come together in a cohesive, meaningful whole.

AI Concentrates Human Creativity at the Initial and Final Stages

AI doesn’t make human creativity unnecessary – it concentrates our creativity at the beginning and end of the creative process.

For a concrete example, in my video on Google’s new AI platform NotebookLM, I demonstrate how I can import the entire history of my reading highlights, and then freely make associations and connections out of that vast collection of text totaling 594,379 words from 719 sources.

While that capability seems almost superhuman, notice what it still required of me: to do the reading in the first place and save the excerpts I found valuable (capturing), and then to take NotebookLM’s responses and turn them into my own creation (expressing). In other words, the first and last steps of creativity haven’t been touched.

I can effectively skip from the first step to the last step, barely touching the steps in between. But that means I still need to take the first and last steps, to give the AI a starting point and an endpoint.

The relevant question has become: what do we do now that the “cost” of intermediate steps like organizing and distilling has plummeted?

Tasks that formerly required expensive human effort can now be completed with cheap computer effort, in fractions of the time. What kinds of goals, outcomes, and creative projects have suddenly become far more feasible than they were just a couple years ago?

For an example of what it might look like to work with AI as a real-time creative partner in this way, check out my in-depth interview (Part 1 and Part 2) with Srini Rao on the AI-powered noteaking app Mem (which by the way is the only notetaking app that OpenAI has invested in).

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Will Artificial Intelligence Replace the Need for Second Brains Entirely? appeared first on Forte Labs.

Launching Building a Second Brain in Brazil and Mexico

2024年4月22日 20:49

One of the aspects of writing a book I most looked forward to was releasing it in my family’s country of origin, Brazil.

I’d spent years daydreaming about what that would feel like, returning to my homeland bearing the gift of hard-won knowledge to share with the people who had given me so much. 

Criando Um Segundo Cérebro came out in July 2023, about a year after the US release, and I decided to travel to Brazil the following month for a press tour to promote it.

In this blog post, I’ll recap our strategy for launching the book in Portuguese and Spanish, the results we achieved, what we found to be most effective, and what I learned.

Strategizing the launch in Brazil

Our strategy in Brazil unfolded in three stages, each one building on the one before:

  1. Host or participate in a series of media interviews and events (in person and virtually)
  2. Funnel all the attention generated into a dedicated Instagram account and WhatsApp community
  3. Use those platforms to launch my book and online course BASB Foundation in Portuguese

Preparing for launch

I hired a Project Manager just for the launch of this book since I knew there would be a lot to coordinate and execute. I found someone in my network who was Brazilian and could handle all communication in Portuguese, which I also speak.

The first thing we did was segment our existing email list to find our “true fans” located in Brazil. Based on their IP address, there were 2,145 of them, out of 81,315 subscribers total at that time, which means 2.6% of my audience was based in Brazil.

Next, I created a WhatsApp Community (essentially a group with multiple subgroups within it) and invited all 2,145 subscribers to join. A couple hundred of them did – representing the most dedicated followers of my work there.

The WhatsApp Community became a central place for me to share updates, ask for help promoting content, announce major milestones, and receive feedback on my plans and ideas. I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm this group of supporters demonstrated. They shared detailed unboxing photos, posted their recommendations and takeaways, boosted our own social media posts, bought extra copies for their friends and colleagues, and gave me tons of helpful advice about how to approach the Brazilian market. I’m incredibly grateful for their contribution to this launch.

BASB Brazil WhatsApp community

The third and final step of preparation was to schedule a 10-day trip to Brazil, at my own expense, which would be used to extensively promote my book’s release in Portuguese.

Stage 1: Generate attention through media interviews and events

The goal of stage 1 was to drum up as much interest and enthusiasm for my book (and the broader idea of Second Brains) as possible.

I participated in 10 events, both online and in person, including:

  • An Instagram Live with a major creator interested in PKM
  • An academic-focused event with CRIE, a lab at a public university in Rio de Janeiro specializing in network science, innovation, and entrepreneurship, including the study of knowledge management
  • Two book signings hosted by my Brazilian publisher, Sextante, in each of the major cities of southern Brazil – Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo
  • Two Second Brain Meetups I hosted myself, in Rio and São Paulo
  • A Notion Meetup organized by the local chapter of Notion enthusiasts
  • A breakout session at Fire Festival, the largest conference on online education in Latin America, hosted every year by the online education platform Hotmart
  • A major podcast, which we filmed in person at a studio in São Paulo
  • A virtual Q&A hosted by the Brazilian Society of Knowledge Management.

For all these events, we took lots of pictures and in a couple of cases even hired a videographer to fully document the experience via short-form video, such as in this example:

Through my publisher, we also received exposure through multiple media outlets, including MIT Sloan Review Brasil, Você RH, O Globo (the newspaper of record in Brazil, which I immediately sent to my mom!), Valor Economico, national radio program CBN, Saber Viver (a lifestyle magazine in Portugal), and Fast Company Brasil.

Besides the traditional media above, we had a legion of independent content creators who were kind enough to produce videos and summaries about me, my book, and my work, on a variety of social media platforms.

Stage 2: Capture the excitement in the new Instagram and WhatsApp accounts

As we were building all this anticipation, we asked everyone to follow our brand new Instagram account, with content only in Portuguese. We haven’t been very active on Instagram in the past (it’s our smallest social platform in the U.S.), but I knew it was by far the most dominant platform in Latin America and would be the ideal home base for our efforts in Brazil.

I knew that events (both in-person and virtual) create “spikes” of attention, but we’d need a way to capture that attention and maintain a longer-term relationship with people.

In the 6 months since its creation, our Brazil Instagram grew from zero to almost 3,000 followers. We posted photos and videos from all the events I participated in, creating a central repository documenting the efforts we made in the country for anyone to see in the future.

I also continued asking people I met and collaborated with to join the WhatsApp group, so we always had a single place to easily communicate and coordinate with them. 

Stage 3: Launch the Portuguese online course

The third and final stage was to create and launch our flagship online course, BASB Foundation, for the Brazilian market. The goal was to make this training as widely available as possible there and to recoup some of the investments we made for the book launch.

BASB Foundation in Portuguese

I decided to use an AI-powered tool called HeyGen to produce the new course, which accomplished three functions: 

  • Translate the actual text from one language to another
  • Generate the audio of me speaking to that text, matching my tone of voice
  • Change my lip movements to match the new words

Although I speak Portuguese, this saved me several days’ worth of filming and gave me a chance to verify the quality of the service in a language I spoke.

Here’s an example of the results:

Although the HeyGen team was highly responsive and did an excellent job supporting our needs, this endeavor ended up being a lot more complex than we expected. The initial translation was impressive but contained some errors and inconsistencies that we had to correct through several iterations. Here are some challenges we faced:

  • HeyGen’s AI-generated translation usually sounded too formal
  • The tone of the AI-generated audio was hard to adjust
  • Questions were a challenge and the emphasis wasn’t always accentuated in longer sentences
  • Very long sentences were difficult for the AI to translate while preserving the meaning
  • Transitions between sentences weren’t always fluid and often felt weird
  • The speed of the spoken words had to vary in order to match the lengths of sentences between languages, sometimes resulting in abrupt speeding up or slowing down

We also realized that launching a course in another language requires a lot more than translating videos. There is an entire infrastructure that needs to be built: from a landing page to onboarding emails to marketing to customer support. 

Assuming your goal is to make it possible for someone who doesn’t speak English at all to access the training, you have to translate 100% of the infrastructure around the course and make sure it works in their country, which is hard to test when you’re not there.

That said, using Hotmart as our course platform (the most popular one in Brazil) made it much more feasible. They provided a variety of tools and features we needed to make the launch possible, all easy to use and designed for the Brazilian market. Their team helped us at several crucial points, and I recommend them for anyone making a foray into Brazil.

The initial launch of the Foundation course in Portuguese was unfortunately quite disappointing, with only 13 sales totaling a few thousand dollars. I’m not sure why even our existing audience wasn’t receptive to it, but I suspect it’s because the $250 price point is still quite high for the Brazilian market, and there is a lot of free content on this topic (both in Portuguese and English) being published continuously that largely satisfies the demand.

For a full recap of how we localized our BASB Foundation course for the Brazilian market, read the recap written by our Director of Marketing here.

Was it worth it?

We sold about 6,000 copies of my book in Brazil in the first 3 months, and 9,500 in the first 6 months. That’s quite a phenomenal outcome! I believe we’ve set the stage for the book to be a perennial bestseller there for years to come.

Looking at the financial picture, we made about $10,000 USD between the book advance and course sales, and have spent $16,000 USD between contractors, SaaS services, and travel costs. I hope over time these two new income sources will match and eventually exceed what we invested to create a presence in Brazil.

Speaking of the less tangible, subjective rewards, it was without a doubt one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. At the book signing in São Paulo, my entire extended family came out to see me, including people who hadn’t seen each other in years. It was like a family reunion!

Seeing the incredible enthusiasm of the many people who came out to support me, and hearing story after story of how my ideas changed their lives, is something I will never forget. Not to mention the feeling that I gave back to my homeland and provided a reason for hope and progress in a country that is so in need of it.

Launching in Mexico and coming full circle

About 7 months later, in March 2024, I had the chance to do it all again – this time for the Spanish release of my book under the title Crea Tu Segundo Cerebro.

Although the book was being released in Spain and throughout Latin America, I decided to do the press tour in Mexico because of my special connection to that country. I had written most of the book proposal while living in Mexico City with my wife Lauren in 2019. It felt like the whole project was coming full circle to where it began.

Here’s a short video with some highlights from this amazing experience:

One major difference this time around was that my Spanish publisher, Reverte, had generously hired a local PR firm to handle all the interviews, media appearances, and events in Mexico City, where I spent a few days dedicated to promotion. I still had to pay for my own travel, but in Brazil, the cost of local staff had been the single biggest expense, and it was helpful to have them cover that cost.

This also meant that almost all the press this time would be from traditional media, via the PR firm’s network. I was fine with this because I had learned from my time in Brazil that I could access digital media outlets easily on my own. What I can’t do is gain the credibility that mainstream media provides, which is more essential in Latin America than in the U.S.

We followed up with much the same playbook as before:

  • Segmenting our existing email subscribers (we found there were about 5,498 subscribers located in 20 Spanish-speaking countries, or 4.7% of my audience)
  • Inviting them to a Spanish-language WhatsApp Community (a similar number, about a couple hundred, decided to join, and they became an essential sounding board and chorus of supporters for everything we did)
  • Creating a new Instagram account to centralize and promote all our Spanish language content and media mentions (this account has less than 100 followers so far, a testament to our focus on traditional media versus digital-native media)
  • Participating in as many events as possible to generate interest and create media mentions which could be further shared to boost the book’s credibility

With the PR firm’s help, I took part in 12 interviews, including several newspapers and magazines, digital publications, a popular podcast, and two TV interviews (including the one below live on air in Spanish!).

Another big difference from the Brazil launch was that I kicked off this press tour with a paid speaking gig at a major conference, at La Festival de Las Ideas in Puebla. This not only started things off with a bang but essentially paid for the entire trip so we broke even from day one. 

Overall, we’ve sold 2,675 copies of my book in Spanish for the initial launch. We’ve made $16,000 USD from Spanish-speaking markets and spent about $7,000, for a profit of $9,000. Taking that into account, our holistic efforts across Latin America have already reached breakeven.

We are planning on translating our course into Spanish (and other languages) as well, using all the best practices we discovered the first time, which hopefully will grow the return on our efforts as well as make these ideas more accessible throughout Latin America.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Launching Building a Second Brain in Brazil and Mexico appeared first on Forte Labs.

Introducing the Second Brain Summit

2024年4月8日 22:16

I’m unbelievably proud to announce the inaugural Second Brain Summit, taking place October 3–4, 2024, in Los Angeles, California!

We’re gathering the most dedicated experts and practitioners of personal knowledge management in the world’s creative capital with three goals in mind:

  1. To meet other like-minded people and see that we’re not alone
  2. To celebrate the explosion of digital creativity we’re living through
  3. To share and learn from each other the most powerful tools and techniques for personal knowledge management and productivity

For the last few years, we’ve hosted an annual virtual summit attended by thousands of people. The excitement and enthusiasm around those virtual gatherings has been so palpable, that we’ve decided to bring it into the physical world for the first time this year.

The Backstory: Where It All Started

I arrived in San Francisco in the spring of 2012, a wide-eyed and innocent kid hoping to start my career in the big city.

I wanted to break into the tech industry I’d heard so many amazing stories about, and to be part of the digital revolution that was brewing. 

I eventually succeeded in finding a job in consulting, but soon realized that while technically I was close to the beating heart of Silicon Valley, in reality, I was far from being part of it. I witnessed people succeeding spectacularly in their careers and even starting companies all around me, and started asking myself, “Why can’t I do the same?”

But without coding or design skills, or a strong network, or any particular insights into important markets, there was no clear way to get in the door. 

It was around this time that I began to attend various events around the San Francisco Bay Area. 

  • I became a regular attendee of the local Quantified Self meetup, in which people shared how they were using technology to track their step count, productivity, health, or other aspects of their lives. 
  • I attended the Evernote conference in 2014 to watch David Allen speak and meet other notetaking enthusiasts for the first time. 
  • I volunteered at the Inbox Love conference, an event dedicated solely to email software. 
  • I went to Maker Faire, where I saw people from all walks of life hacking together hardware and software into everything from beer fridge robots to exquisite art projects. 
  • I participated in various hackathons, where I was stunned to see useful apps whipped up in a matter of hours.

Looking back, being part of these events was a formative education for everything I’ve done and accomplished since. Some of the people I met became pivotal collaborators or mentors. Ideas I heard in passing ended up being cornerstones of my work. The mindset and perspectives I absorbed from successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders changed who I am at a deep level. Walking through those doors was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made, opening up new horizons for me to this very day.

It’s been 10 years, and I did eventually succeed in breaking into tech, just not in the way I imagined. I discovered that I am at heart a teacher and that the most valuable thing I have to teach is how to succeed at the intersection of productivity and creativity. More specifically, how to effectively leverage digital notetaking apps in one’s day-to-day life, using a system I call a Second Brain.

When I began teaching this topic in 2016, there was no established term for what I was doing. One day I came across an obscure Wikipedia article mentioning a discipline called PKM, for Personal Knowledge Management. I had never heard of it before, but it perfectly described what I was doing. Since then, I’ve been amazed to watch PKM blossom into a full-fledged movement and industry encompassing huge companies, millions of people, and an endless stream of educational content appearing online every day.

PKM has become a global community, but I’ve long noticed there is something missing: there is no clear time and place where that community comes together in person. Seemingly every emerging trend and fledgling industry has its own in-person gathering, except us. There are numerous online courses, virtual summits, and social media feeds we can be part of, but if there’s one thing my path has taught me, it’s that there is no substitute for gathering in the flesh.

As always, I started this project by looking through years of my notes and observations on what I liked (and didn’t like) about conferences, summits, meetups, and other events I’d been to. A few things clearly stood out:

  • Speeches and keynotes aren’t the only draw anymore, since it’s easy to consume that kind of content online
  • Hands-on workshops and interactive Q&As are more valuable since they are hard to conduct online
  • The facilitators of these workshops shouldn’t be theoretical experts nor media pundits – they should be real-world practitioners putting their knowledge to the test in the trenches
  • Everyone knows the best part of conferences are the serendipitous “hallway conversations” and evening happy hours, so we should allow time for those and make them a central part of the experience
  • Attendees have a lot of knowledge and experience themselves, so we should have  dedicated time for “self-organized” sessions led by attendees on any topic they choose

A Pop-Up University for Digital Creativity

As our plans and thinking around this summit slowly took shape over the last year, it dawned on me that what we’re really creating is a “pop-up university” for a skill not found in any college or university: how to leverage digital tools for creativity.

Productivity is an essential starting point – without a firm foundation of knowing how to get things done, there’s little chance any of your creative endeavors will bear fruit. But productivity also isn’t enough on its own. It’s always just a means to an end, and that end is manifesting your creative dreams and visions into reality. Technology has become so powerful and accessible that it can help there as well!

Imagine if all your favorite online teachers and experts assembled in one place, at one time, to merge their knowledge and experience together into one cohesive experience.

Imagine if you had the chance to see them in action using their tools and techniques of choice, and ask questions that get answered on the spot.

Imagine if you had the chance to find others who are on the same wavelength, and assemble a custom breakout session that very day to dive deeper into what you’re obsessed with.

Imagine if you could do all this just by walking around a beautiful space perfectly designed to activate all your senses, instead of clicking around fussy screens in your web browser and squinting at a tiny Zoom thumbnail.

That’s what we’re creating with the Second Brain Summit: an all-in-one, immersive, multi-sensory, choose-your-own-adventure learning experience designed to change your mind, touch your heart, and maybe even stir your soul.

Here’s a sneak peek of what we’re planning:

All my most profound growth experiences have happened in the physical world, in an environment where I was faced with both my deepest fears and my highest hopes surrounded by people I trusted to carry me through to the other side. 

That is the kind of experience I want to create to help people navigate the technological renaissance we’re living through and to emerge on the other side as radically expanded versions of who they were when they walked in.

The Summit will take place over two days, but it isn’t meant to be a one-time event. It is the kickoff event for a community of practice around the potential of second brains and PKM. 

A community based not only on socializing or a shared interest but on collectively shepherding a new possibility into the world: that technology can unlock and unleash us from our biological limitations and usher in a new era of human flourishing.

This is a community that balances science and logic with emotion and beauty; that honors both our left-brain logic and right-brain intuition; that is confident with both top-down and bottom-up approaches; that encompasses multiple cultures and languages and ways of thinking in service of fulfilling our potential. 

We could pursue these visions alone, by ourselves. But as Mariame Kaba says, “Everything worthwhile is done with other people.” We do it together because it’s more meaningful to share the journey, more powerful to learn directly from each other, and more fun to have someone to celebrate with us at the finish line.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Introducing the Second Brain Summit appeared first on Forte Labs.

Why We’re Moving to Valle de Bravo, Mexico

2024年3月25日 20:30

In August of 1998, when I was 14 years old, my parents pulled my three siblings and me out of school, packed up our house and our bags, and left the country. 

Instead of starting 8th grade in the wealthy suburb of Laguna Niguel, I would be attending a public school in a working-class neighborhood of Campos do Jordão, a mountain town in Southeast Brazil a couple of hours outside São Paulo. My parents had decided to move us to Brazil so we could spend a year fully immersed in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language. 

I still remember the opposition they had to overcome to make the move: from our teachers and school administrators warning them that we’d surely fall behind academically, from people at our church who said a “third-world country” would be too dangerous for children, and even from our extended family worried we’d lose touch.

Yet looking back, I think this was one of the most pivotal decisions my parents ever made. With the benefit of 26 years of hindsight, I find it hard to express just how dramatically that one year shaped my future. 

It was during that year that I learned to speak Portuguese (I had only been able to understand it up to that point), which in turn opened the door to learning other languages like Spanish and Russian. I connected with my Brazilian roots and learned to see the world through a Brazilian lens, giving me an alternate perspective to the American one.

Brazil was my first overseas immersion, teaching me priceless skills like resilience, adaptability, and the self-confidence that I could find my way in any situation. I went on to further develop those skills during foreign sojourns in Colombia, Ukraine, and Mexico. 

It was in that year that I first found my love of writing. The very first thing I can remember writing of my own free will, not because a teacher demanded it, were emails I sent back home to our family and friends recounting our adventures during road trips around Brazil. It was the first time something happened to me that I felt was worth writing about.

It feels like a decade of memories and lessons were packed into those 12 months. As this essay by Paras Chopra argues, the reason time seems to pass faster as we age is that the novelty of our days declines. We start living the same day again and again, and our brains don’t bother storing memories that are indistinguishable from each other. Chopra’s solution to this dilemma is one I’ve always followed: to “…dive head-first into unknown territory. That is, to travel physically or mentally.”

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on what kind of childhood I want my kids to have, especially now that they’re leaving the baby stage. I’m determined to recreate the same kind of experience I had as a kid for them. There is no greater gift I can imagine giving them than a new language, a connection to their heritage, and the knowledge that they can adapt to anything.

Which is why we’ve decided to move next summer (note: this has now been moved up to this summer 2024!) to a small mountain town called Valle de Bravo, about two hours outside Mexico City.

Why Mexico?

My wife Lauren and I first considered taking the family to Brazil, but it soon became clear that Mexico made more sense for us, at least for a first round.

Mexico is a lot closer to the U.S., where both our immediate families live, with easy flights from most major cities. It’s very important to us that our kids maintain a connection with their aunts, uncles, and cousins back home, and we expect to visit home often.

Lauren is Mexican-American, so not only is there an existing heritage for her to reconnect with, but once we return to the U.S. there is also an extended clan that will allow our children to maintain the new identities they acquire.

Lastly, Spanish is probably more broadly useful as a language than Portuguese, and once they learn one of them, the other becomes far more accessible (especially if they learn it during their formative early years). I still plan on living in Brazil at some point in the future. 

Why Valle de Bravo?

Mexico City was perfect for our childless, early-30s selves, but we’re now in a different season of our lives, in which getting a fancy meal for cheap isn’t the thrill it once was. Now our highest pleasures are experienced vicariously through our children, and the capital doesn’t seem designed for them.

We visited Mexico as a family recently, and I happened to get an invite from a Mexican entrepreneur to visit his town, and on a whim, I said yes. After a few hours’ drive that ascended into the mountains, we entered a cozy lakeside town that reminded me of Lake Tahoe. It was clearly a wealthy, touristic enclave, but my host told me that a lot of families had moved there during the pandemic and never left.

As I questioned my host and expats I connected with online about what it was like living there, they began to paint a picture of a wonderful lifestyle centered on families, outdoor activities and sports, and pursuits we enjoy like environmental work, spirituality, and culture.

It’s close enough to Mexico City to travel there easily, but far enough to instill a sense of palpable peace and quiet. It’s elevated, which gives it a more temperate climate and cleaner mountain air. It’s quite a small town where everyone seems to know each other, yet it also has an unusually high concentration of entrepreneurs and creatives (both Mexican and foreigners) as well as great food options and amenities. 

One of our primary concerns was finding a good school for our son Caio, and we were delighted to find several highly progressive early childhood schools that focus on socio-emotional development, like the one we have back home. We visited one of the schools and spoke with the director, and it seems like a perfect fit not only for our son but for the social network of parents who share a lot of our interests and lifestyle.

It looks like we can find an amazing house for around $4,000 USD per month, which will have enough space for a home office and a room for a live-in nanny. That is around how much our home in Long Beach would rent for, so we’ll either seek out a home exchange with a local family or just rent it out normally (if you happen to have a home in Valle and want to do a home exchange with us in LA, please let me know!).

Otherwise, I was surprised to find that most of the amenities and services we rely on back home are available in Valle as well. Internet connectivity is fast, Costco delivers from a nearby city, and Amazon Prime orders arrive in two days. There is no shortage of shopping, nature, sports, and social life to keep us all busy.

There is an international airport in the nearest large city, Toluca, that is about an hour away versus the three hours needed to get to Mexico City’s airport. There are flights to and from LA every day or two for a few hundred dollars, with layovers in Guadalajara or Monterrey. 

I honestly can’t imagine a place that meets more of our requirements. It actually strikes me as very similar to the town we moved to in Brazil as children. We plan on making the move in the summer of 2025 (note: this has now changed to summer 2024), in time for the start of the fall school semester, and staying for at least a year.

The fear and the bliss of leaving

This idea has been brewing for a long time in Lauren and me. As the concrete details have begun to fall into place, I’ve noticed that this isn’t just about the fun and adventure of a foreign land: it’s also about leaving the U.S. for its own sake.

I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and it saddens me a bit to do so, but I think there’s something deeply broken about the U.S. as a society now. Most people seem so disconnected from themselves and each other. Life is so work-centric and everything else is an afterthought in comparison. Everything is for sale, feels like a scam, or involves a tech company harvesting our attention for profit. It feels like the U.S. as a culture has entered a kind of stagnant decline that I don’t want to be a part of.

I don’t want my kids growing up only as Americans and seeing the world solely through that lens. I don’t want them steeped in the hyperindividualism, consumerism, tech addiction, media sensationalism, political polarization, and social isolation that are so unavoidable here. I increasingly feel that limiting my kids’ perspective to the American one would be dangerous to their mental health.

I recently read about the work of Professor Mariana Brussoni, about how important it is for kids to engage in risky physical play. It crystallized for me something I’ve always sensed: that in the U.S. we are gripped by fear of everything from traffic accidents to terrorist attacks to crime to dangerous playground equipment, despite it objectively being among the safest places on Earth. This culture of ubiquitous liability waivers, caution tape, and exaggerated caution I think is one of the deepest, most subtle causes of suffering in our society. When you act as if everything in the world is dangerous, all you see is danger and all you feel is fear.

At many points in my life, the Latino cultural qualities – collective welfare over individual success, default sociability versus isolation, cultural heritage versus material wealth, cooperation versus competition – have served as an antidote for me against nihilism and depression. They’ve given me an alternative “way of being” that I could switch to when my American outlook felt bleak. Giving my children access to that way of being is even more important to me than a new language.

To put this in personal terms, I’m just much happier when I’m abroad. I don’t feel nearly as much pressure to work long hours and pursue relentless achievement. When I’m abroad, time slows down, and the days feel longer. I create more memories, deeper relationships, and I like who I am more. 

The U.S. doesn’t work for me long term because it reinforces the worst parts of my psychology, or at least the parts that I’m ready to deemphasize now. The U.S. is the best place in the world to start a business, but now that I’ve done that, I want to go to where I will most be able to enjoy the “finer things in life.”

How the business will have to change

At first, I thought we would need to make some dramatic changes to how the business operates to accommodate this move, but the more I’ve thought about it, the less I think that’s the case.

Mexico City is only 1-2 hours ahead of LA time, depending on the time of year, so scheduling meetings and phone calls won’t be an issue. It’s easy to fly anywhere in the U.S. via plentiful international flights from several airports around the Mexican capital.

We’ve already retired the live cohorts of our course, which were the big heavy lifts that would have required a lot of synchronized meetings. And the team only meets in person once or twice a year anyway.

Our most critical and frequent in-person events are YouTube video shoots, which happen about every other month for a couple of days. But most of our equipment is portable, and I think we can either build our own studio in Valle or use someone else’s. There are many online creators based there and I’m sure there are ways to produce high-quality video recordings. We’ve already had to figure out a remote production setup with our editors calling in from Germany.

On the other hand, I was already planning on doubling down on book writing as my main focus, and this move is strongly in line with that. I’ll be able to create a slower-moving, more rural lifestyle with full-time childcare that allows me to focus on my writing most of the time. 

I always remember how our childhood travels abroad would inspire my father’s artwork, with Chinese or Brazilian or Israeli themes showing up clearly in his paintings. I hope much the same happens with my work, fueling my creativity with new ideas and new perspectives.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Why We’re Moving to Valle de Bravo, Mexico appeared first on Forte Labs.

The Ultimate Guide to Storing, Managing, and Enjoying Your Photos

2024年3月11日 20:44

When it comes to storing and organizing digital information, photos are in many ways the elephant in the room.

They’re highly valued and meaningful, yet require a lot of storage space. For many people, photos are probably the earliest experience of having too much digital content to manage.

I first felt this sensation of information overload when I was 17, having received my first digital camera. In a matter of weeks, I had accumulated way too many photos and way too many decisions to make about them. 

Since then, I’ve tried everything from manually loading photos onto my hard drive, to managing photos in Facebook albums, to moving photos into iPhoto (Apple’s photo management system), and experimenting with Flickr when it all became cloud-based. 

For the last five years, I’ve stuck with one solution I’m confident in and will share with you here. I’ll cover where you should store photos in your Second Brain, how you can organize them, and what to do with your photos so they don’t just collect digital dust, but play a valuable part in your life.  

Where to store your photos 

Let’s clarify first where photos should NOT go: Your notes app is not the right place to store photos or videos because it’s not made to handle large-sized media (which would generally slow it down). 

I keep my photos in Google Photos which means they’re always securely stored in the cloud. 

Since I take the majority of my photos on my phone (which is probably true for most people), they’re automatically uploaded and backed up via the Google Photos app. 

It’s hard to overstate how dramatically this simplifies a process that used to take hours. If you’re old enough, you’ll recall how you tediously connected a wire from your digital camera to your computer and then manually transferred all these files. 

There are a few settings in Google Photos I recommend:

  • Turn on “Backup”: That way all photos and videos from your phone are uploaded automatically in the background to the Google Photos account associated with your Gmail address. Even if you lose your phone, your most recent photos will still be preserved in the cloud.  
  • Choose the Backup quality: I recommend “Storage saver” which stores photos at a slightly reduced quality. That’s usually still more than enough to use your photos for various purposes which we’ll cover later. 
  • Turn off “Use mobile data to back up photos/videos”: Your photos and videos will only be uploaded when you’re on wifi to save data. 
  • Turn on “Partner sharing”: This setting automatically shares photos with your significant other so that you don’t have to manually send each other photos.

Note that you’ll likely have to buy additional storage with Google One to be able to store all your photos over many years. You can find the current pricing here.

How to organize your photos 

The good news is: You don’t really need to because Google Photos automatically organizes your photos for you in various ways. 

By default, you’ll view your photos in an infinite timeline organized by date with the oldest ones at the bottom and the newest ones at the top. 

When you select “Explore” in the left sidebar, you’ll find your photos categorized by people and pets, places, and things in the photos (such as food, forests, sunsets, mountains, receipts, etc.)

If you’re looking for a specific photo, I suggest using the search bar and typing in a keyword or location. You’ll be surprised how accurate the search results are. 

A more manual way to organize your photos is to curate them into albums (for example, of vacations and celebrations) that you can then share with others via a link Google Photos generates.  

Now, the question remains: What should you do with all the photos you’re taking? How can they add beauty and meaning to your life instead of just sitting around on a server somewhere? 

Why you should create photo books 

Having a concrete project in mind makes it clear and specific what all those photos are for. As with anything, a hands-on project will cut through the noise and make information manageable when it gets overwhelming.

For photos, the project I’ve stuck with for years is creating photo books – simple booklets printed on high-quality paper with a cover.

Photo Book

I’ve done dozens of these books, and they are without exaggeration some of the most meaningful things I’ve ever created. 

I keep them on my bookshelf and coffee table and bring them out during holidays and birthdays with my family. They constantly remind us of our favorite memories and times together. 

Since I have these books around, my photos are so much more available in our daily life. They make the past more present and vivid. And as a result, I’m more grateful and appreciative and feel closer and more connected to the people in my life. 

The few hours it takes me to create photo books easily yield some of the highest ROI for my entire year, which is why I’ve done them for a decade.

In fact, creating a photo book with the best memories of the past year has become a crucial part of my Annual Review process. It’s one of the first things I do because it gives me such a deep sense of perspective.

When you start to consider the goals and projects you’ll take on in a new year, you want to be in the most well-rounded, well-resourced state of mind. You want to feel connected to the things in your life that are good, true, beautiful, and important so that your decisions about the future are rooted in what’s best about the past.

I don’t know of a better way of doing that than reviewing my photos from the past year. By the time I’ve gone through these photos, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for how incredible life is.

How could I not be? Every single photo is proof that the inner critic in my head that’s saying, “You don’t have enough” or “You’re not good enough,” is wrong. By the time I’ve presented it with overwhelming visual evidence of how amazing my life is, that critic is completely silenced. 

How to create a photo book the easy way

I’ll now share the process and lessons learned to create an annual photo book with the 100 best photos, highlighting the most important and meaningful moments from a given year.  

As for any project, I start by setting constraints to reign in any perfectionistic tendencies and minimize procrastination. 

Here are the constraints I set for myself:

  • The entire process shouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours. 
  • I only consider photos taken between January 1st and December 31st of that year. 
  • I set myself a deadline to get it done which is usually around January 5th. 
  • I only use photos I’ve taken. (I’m not considering photos that my wife or anyone else has shared with me. That would unnecessarily lengthen the process.) 

When you create these rules and boundaries, your likelihood that you’ll actually complete your project increases, which is really the whole point.

Next, I follow these three steps: 

1. Take awesome photos 

Not surprisingly, the first step is to take photos throughout the year. Over the last decade, I’ve learned a great deal about what makes a “top 100” photo. In turn, that has influenced how many and what kind of photos I take in the first place. 

My number one lesson is that I’ve learned to take way fewer photos because I know that usually only one photo from a trip, celebration, or meaningful moment will make it into the photo book. 

For example, when we took a trip to Disneyland with the kids, my whole goal was to come away from the day with one good photo. Once I had taken that photo, I put my phone away which allowed me to be more present with my family. I didn’t have the constant pressure to document every single moment, creating the perfect replica of everything that happened that day.

I also tend to take more photos of people and meaningful milestones (such as the moment I held the printed manuscript of my book in hand) and fewer photos of sunsets, fireworks, and random stuff that I know are not going to be important in the future.

2. Choose your best photos and add them to an album 

This is the single hardest part for most people. In fact, it’s so hard that most never get past this point.

I choose no more than 100 photos to represent a given year. That’s enough to give an overview of my favorite moments and people but not too much to become overwhelming. 

In my first years of creating photo books, I had about 400 photos selected on my first pass. It was a long, excruciating process to cut them down further until I reached my target number.

That’s why you need to embrace imperfection in this process. Remember that you’re not throwing anything away. You’re just elevating and distinguishing a small number of photos for easier access.

I promise that over time, you’ll get much better at making those decisions decisively. In fact, you’ll start to develop an intuition for what a “top 100” photo looks like even as you’re taking it.

I suggest choosing photos for your photo book in passes. Start on January 1st and only move forward, not dwelling on anything you see, moving any photo you think is one of the very best of the year into an album. 

I set a timer for the first pass which should take no more than an hour. The second pass should be done in about 10 to 15 minutes. You might need a third pass to reach 100 photos. 

Don’t worry too much about organizing them in chronological order, putting photos from the same trip or event together, if someone’s eyes are closed, or if a photo is a bit blurry. In a weird way, these mistakes and imperfections become a cherished part of the memories. 

3. Turn the album into a photo book and customize it 

Once you have the album with the photos you want in Google Photos, you select “Order photos” and then “Photo book” at the top of the screen.  

The great thing about Google Photos is that there are extremely few options for customizing your photo book. All you can do is move the order, change some formatting, add captions, and select the cover image and title. 

In the past, I’ve tried to use full-scale publishing software for this but it quickly became overwhelming since there’s way too much control over every little detail. As a result, these projects never saw the light of day. 

Next, you’ll choose between two sizes for your photo book. I always go with the smaller, square size, which also means that my photos don’t have to be high resolution to look great.

Hit “buy,” and in a couple of weeks your photo book arrives at your doorstep. 

More things you can do to elevate your photos

Creating photo books is not the only way to make your favorite photos more present in your life. 

Here are a few more options: 

  • Make prints and display them in your house or give them away to family members
  • Curate a photo slideshow to show at your next family gathering 
  • Create a photo calendar for the new year 

What’s essential for all these creative projects is that they spring from a selection of photos. You can’t do any of this if you have 3,000 of them. No one, not even you will want to look through that many photos.

Distillation is the key to turning your photos into something anyone will ever want to look at and enjoy in any form.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Storing, Managing, and Enjoying Your Photos appeared first on Forte Labs.

The 5-Year Journey of Publishing Building a Second Brain

2024年3月1日 03:53
An aspiring author asked me what I’d learned from writing and publishing my book over the last 5 years.
I responded with a 17-minute video, recapping the timeline of the project, my biggest lessons, mistakes, and sales milestones.
If you’ve ever considered publishing a book or are just curious about what went into the project, I invite you to watch my recap of the last 5 years.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post The 5-Year Journey of Publishing Building a Second Brain appeared first on Forte Labs.

The B2B Education Frontier: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of Corporate Training

2024年2月26日 22:10

For 10 years, I’ve been immersed in the world of online education.

Courses, social media, blog posts, videos – these have been my daily tools of the trade in developing the Building a Second Brain (BASB) ecosystem.

Yet I’ve recently been haunted by the feeling that we’re still barely scratching the surface – that after almost a decade spent translating my methodology into every medium I can think of (even a bestselling book), we’ve not yet reached even 1% of the people who could most benefit from it.

That haunting suspicion led me to spend much of the past year researching and investigating what it would look like to radically expand our footprint and spread my message much further and wider. I’ve had dozens of conversations with experienced leaders and entrepreneurs who have built sizable businesses, changed how companies operate around the world, and impacted millions with their ideas. 

Those conversations have led me inexorably to one destination: business-to-business (or B2B) education, also known as “corporate training” and adjacent business models like licensing, certifications, train-the-trainer programs, and others.

As popular as direct-to-consumer online education has become, the fact is most people still learn, work, and collaborate inside of institutions: schools, universities, small and medium-sized businesses, multinational corporations, government entities, non-profits, civic organizations, and countless other organizations.

I’ve come to believe that if you really want to change the conversation around an important topic, you have to reach inside these “commanding heights” of the economy. If you want your ideas to go beyond just your personal efforts, you need a lever much more powerful than your own company – you need to leverage the existing institutions that run the world.

I thought I knew a lot about how for-profit education worked, but as I began to research and talk to people, it slowly dawned on me that this B2B world I was entering was completely different from the consumer-centric (or B2C) world I knew. 

In many ways, they work in opposite ways, like a mirror image flipping all our most sacred assumptions on their head.

I’m documenting what I’ve learned about B2B education in public so you can accompany me on the journey to understand and master this new domain. I see so many online creators trapped in the same situation as me: We’ve worked so hard to grow an audience, invented valuable ideas, and demonstrated a proven track record of creating change in people’s lives at the individual level. 

And yet, like me, I don’t think most online creators have realized even 1% of the potential of their knowledge. They have no idea just how much value is locked up in their heads and in the content they give away so freely. They don’t see their content as intellectual property – an incredibly valuable business asset that could touch the lives of millions, not to mention creating an immense amount of wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities.

It strikes me that we online creators spend an overwhelming amount of time and effort on the “front-end” of our business: acquiring followers, nurturing them continuously, creating content, promoting it on social media, etc. But hardly any corresponding effort is spent on the “back-end” of the business – ways of capitalizing on the value of that content and turning that following we’ve built into a real, sustainable business. 

We might have a course or other product we can sell, but then what? What do we do with this vast amount of attention we’ve aggregated?

After years of developing my Second Brain methodology and establishing its validity and credibility, I’m finally ready to pursue a new chapter: teaching professionals within companies and organizations a better way of working, learning, communicating, and creating using technology.

The B2B versus B2C mindset

My first surprise has been just how distinct B2B education is from B2C education. They require a completely different set of attitudes to navigate successfully.

Working in public versus dealing in private

The B2C education world includes everything falling under the umbrella of “online education” – all the content, webinars, books, podcasts, and courses you can find publicly online, whether on open platforms like Udemy or Skillshare or white-labeled platforms like Kajabi or Circle.

This is the world of thought leaders and public intellectuals, of YouTube videos and podcasts, of massive audiences built on social media and sales funnels designed to turn them into customers. It all exists in public, visible for all to see. Anyone can simply perform a Google search, visit a webpage, pull out their credit card, and buy any educational product they want. It’s a performative arena that’s all about attracting the maximum amount of attention from the greatest number of people.

The B2B education world, I’ve learned, works very differently.

Little of it is publicly visible, which means you can’t just look up which training programs even exist, much less at what price or with what features. It is an ecosystem of professional trainers and facilitators, who maintain long-term business relationships and make personal sales calls, pursuing major contracts in the six or seven figures, and delivering their expertise in day-long seminars held in hotel ballrooms.

And it all happens to a large degree in private.

Low-ticket versus high-ticket spending

Many of the differences between these two markets come from the far higher level of spending a company is capable of compared to an individual. A consumer might put more effort into considering a $100 purchase than a company needs to make a $10,000 purchase.

With so much money at stake, it clearly makes sense to have a much more involved, high-touch, personal sales process based on phone calls and in-person meetings, rather than the mass market approach of email broadcasts. When a decision maker is investing such a sum, they want to speak to a knowledgeable human being they trust to look out for their interests and craft an offering customized for their needs.

When you’re making bespoke deals that are priced differently for each client, you don’t necessarily want everyone to know about them, so it’s not in your interest to publicize all the details on your website. And the best leads are much more likely to come in via referral anyway, so the website hardly matters.

A single decision maker versus multiple

Another major difference is that in B2C, the customer is spending their own money and will be the one participating in the training. They are therefore incentivized to be frugal, and to eke out every last bit of value from their purchase. This often shows up in the form of discount-seeking, complaints (whether justified or not), and sky-high expectations that are difficult to meet. 

In B2B, there are several roles played by different people: the decision maker (usually a manager leading a team, or an executive leading a department or division) is different from the buyer (an executive who has to sign off on the spending, or a procurement officer who has to process it) is different from the participant who will actually experience the training.

This means that there are different communications that have to be conveyed to each of these parties, and a variety of decisions and approvals that need to be coordinated among them to bring the training to fruition. If you’re the training company, this all means more personnel doing more high-touch work to fulfill everyone’s requirements. All this work takes time, which means B2B education operates on much longer cycles, with training events often scheduled 6-12 months or more in advance.

Quality content versus quality trainers

In some ways, B2B training has lower standards than B2C.

When it comes to the quality of the material – recorded videos, printed materials, graphic design – it is often far below what consumers expect online, where the fierce competition for attention demands that content be polished and optimized to perfection. On the public web, the half-life of trends, memes, and hot topics is far shorter, as the never-ending news cycle moves on within days or weeks. 

In B2B, everything moves much more slowly, since companies tend to be more conservative and risk-averse. They only jump on the bandwagon when a new idea has been proven, which might very well be 5-10 years after it first appears on the public web. This delay creates an incredible opportunity for those of us on the bleeding edge to ride new trends right into the heart of the corporate world.

Along other dimensions, B2B standards are higher. They usually expect an interactive component, whether in person (the traditional setting for corporate trainings) or, increasingly, via online video conference platforms like Zoom. This means you need facilitators who not only know the material and are excellent teachers, but who have the experience and gravitas to stand in front of a room of professionals with authority. These facilitators and trainers are therefore often older, in their 40s to 60s, with more career experience under their belt.

Entertainment value versus business value

Learners in corporate settings are generally more sensitive to the time demands of training.

They aren’t learning for the sake of personal interest or enjoyment – they are learning with a specific business outcome in mind, and every minute has a dollar value attached. That means they need the training packaged and contained within a certain number of minutes, hours, or days. 

Every lesson or module needs to take them closer to the result they’re seeking. There’s less room for material that is merely interesting or entertaining if it can’t be demonstrated to produce a result. Whereas with consumers, often being engaging and entertaining provides enough value to justify the purchase.

Why move into the B2B world?

So why enter this new arena at all? Why not stick with the tried-and-true B2C market I know so well?

From the perspective of a business owner, B2B education is an inherently more stable, predictable, recurring, and scalable business to be in, as I first learned from consultant and certification expert Pam Slim. It’s not driven primarily by trends, culture shifts, or what’s in the news, like the consumer markets. This can be a godsend for those of us who don’t want to comment on every emerging meme and pivot to a new idea every year or two.

B2B is about capitalizing on intellectual property that already works, again and again for many years on end. Paradoxically, it requires retreating from the frontier of pure innovation to tamer pastures where proven ideas have the time and space to mature to their full potential.

The three paths of B2B education

Every education company has Intellectual Property (or IP) as their core asset. That could include ideas, concepts, content, designs, frameworks, models, diagrams, tools, techniques, publications, software, patents, trademarks, or research you’ve developed or invented that conveys value to a learner.

The main question that determines which business model you choose is, “How do you want to deliver that value?” There are three popular approaches, depending on how much of the training you want to deliver yourself:

  1. Licensing
  2. Train-the-trainer
  3. In-house delivery


Licensing is the simplest business model, which involves fully outsourcing the delivery of your training to another company, contractor, facilitator, or in-house trainer (a trainer who works full-time within the company receiving the training). You create a legally binding agreement that grants the right to use your IP, with certain conditions and restrictions, in exchange for a fee (which can be one-time or recurring, or both).

An example of this model is Mike Michalowicz, a prolific author who’s written 11 books (such as Profit First and Clockwork) on themes designed to help entrepreneurs succeed. While he loves writing books, he’s not interested in building a full-scale training or implementation service to help companies put those ideas into practice. 

As he explained in a recent podcast episode, for each book, Michalowicz finds a licensed partner who becomes the “approved” implementer of that book’s methods. Usually he looks for a low to mid-six-figure consulting business that already offers a replicable, scalable service. 

That consultancy pays him an upfront fee plus a recurring percentage of revenue from the leads Mike sends their way. Which means he gets to spend 100% of his time (along with his 8-person team) promoting his books to their full potential, gaining a share of the financial upside from consulting, while not having to directly manage all the complexity that service entails. 


Train-the-trainer goes a step further. You “train the trainer,” giving someone the tools they need not only to practice the new skill themselves, but to teach others how to practice that skill with accuracy and integrity. Once they’ve demonstrated proof of competence as a trainer, they become not just a practitioner, but a teacher in their own right, with permission to access and use licensed material such as participant workbooks and trainer guides.

These trainers can be “independent” trainers, offering their own services on the open market, or “in-house” trainers who work exclusively for one organization. They often have to complete “continuing education units” (CEUs) to maintain their status and can usually display an official designation (such as a badge or logo) on their website, email signature, or LinkedIn profile. In some cases, these trainers receive ongoing support such as updates to the training material, invitations to advanced training, coaching on best practices, access to a community of other trainers, or promotion via the IP owner’s website (often requiring the payment of an ongoing fee to maintain their active status).

An example of this model is the Sparketype Advisor Training and Certification Program, offered by Jonathan Fields’ company Spark Endeavors (inspired by his book Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive). 

A “sparketype” is a personality type, which according to Fields’ research and experience helps professionals discover the kind of work that enlivens them and helps them fulfill their potential. They position themselves explicitly against existing “type-based” methodologies such as CliftonStrengths, VIA Character Strengths, DISC, MBTI, and the Enneagram, seeking to modernize and update them for the post-COVID world of rampant employee disengagement and burnout.

According to their website, over 850,000 people have taken their online assessment, creating a flow of warm leads who are primed to pursue further training. They created the role of Certified Sparketype Advisor (or CSA) to facilitate that training for companies and other organizations.

The CSA certification is designed for existing coaches, facilitators, career counselors, L&D professionals, HR professionals, and managers, and costs between $2,500 and $3,500 depending on when you enroll. It is delivered over 11 weeks in a hybrid format combining self-paced content consumption and small group coaching sessions in “learning pods” of 8-10 people guided by a “mentor.” 

Participants are taught how the Sparketypes apply to the real world workplace, how they can be used to enhance professionals’ sense of meaning, engagement, motivation, and performance, and how to weave the Sparketype tools into their existing client engagements. 

Once certified (and as long as they maintain their active status for $500 annually), CSAs are equipped with a variety of tools and benefits, including:

  • Expanded “premium” Sparketype profiles and workbooks for participants
  • Official CSA training manual
  • A quarterly “fireside chat” with Spark Endeavors founder, Jonathan Fields
  • Facilitated weekly small group and pair practice sessions with other CSAs
  • An “official” certification letter, certificate and digital badge for public display
  • License to use the Sparketype® processes, tools, resources, presentation templates, materials, brand identity, and programming in client engagements
  • Access to monthly virtual office hours with Spark Endeavors staff to ask questions, get updates on new offerings, and connect with other CSAs from around the world
  • Discounts on future trainings, in-person events, and other educational experiences
  • Public listing on the searchable Global CSA Directory
  • Accreditation by the International Coach Federation for continuing education credits

In-house delivery

In-house delivery is the most involved option, allowing the creator of IP to maintain the most control over its delivery by handling it themselves. This requires either delivering the training yourself as the instructor or hiring your own trainers and ensuring quality control at every step of the process.

An example of this route is Box of Crayons, a company founded by Michael Bungay Stanier (author of the bestselling book The Coaching Habit). The company offers a range of training and services based directly on the book’s teachings – to instill “coach-like curiosity” as a business skill in companies.

Their website claims over 132,000 people within organizations have participated in their programs, including companies like IBM, Upwork, Expedia, and Salesforce (think for a second how long it would take to reach that many consumers individually on your own). They deliver their training themselves, via a mix of self-paced, cohort-based, videoconference, and in-person experiences. 

They also offer a range of “customized” options such as licensing, localization and translation, and train-the-trainer models for in-house facilitators. Which demonstrates that you don’t have to choose just one model to follow.

All these options have to do with who owns the delivery of the training. In any case, the company that owns the IP is responsible for creating and maintaining a variety of assets needed to make that delivery successful: participant workbooks, trainer guides, learning aids, video modules, resource guides, marketing materials, sales support materials, etc.

Other examples I’m studying include Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead programs, and even education not based on a single expert’s body of work, such as the Mayo Clinic Wellness Coach Training Program.

Pricing and costs

$1,500 per person per day is a typical cost for premium corporate training. For example, a 20-participant training for 3 days would come out to about $100,000.

A typical full-time trainer can handle up to 200 days of training delivery per year and makes around $1,500 per day, which means they can make $150,000 per year using only about half their capacity. Trainers who want to handle more training days or who are more experienced can make considerably more, while also pursuing their own business on the side.

Using these basic numbers, it takes serving about 666 training participants per year to create a 7-figure business. If there are 20 people in a typical group training, that requires delivering only 33 training days in a year total. 

For an 8-figure business, you would need 6,666 trainees, or 333 training days, which could be handled by as few as 2-3 trainers. This begins to paint a picture of what’s possible with relatively few staff, as long as you have a steady supply of leads.

6 guiding principles for entering the B2B market 

Through my conversations with knowledgeable people in this area, I’ve arrived at a set of helpful principles I plan on keeping in mind as we embark on this path:

#1 – Everything out there – all the content and advice – is designed for B2C creators; you have to look elsewhere for B2B

Most of the popular content you see online is designed for the masses. The masses are, by definition, mostly beginners, trying to make their first buck online. 

Therefore, to gain insight into B2B education, you have to largely ignore the vast majority of the advice you find on the public web, in favor of behind-the-scenes learning directly from entrepreneurs who have done it themselves. This requires a conscious effort to ignore certain sources of information (like social media) that are loud and certain, in favor of others that are more nuanced and mostly found behind closed doors.

#2 – Clients want to be seen as a partner and co-develop the training with you (not “I have a product and want to sell it to you”)

In the B2C world, we are used to creating our courses in private and then “unveiling” them to the world all at once via a launch. We hope to sell it to hundreds or thousands of largely anonymous consumers, which means no one person’s opinion is decisive in deciding what to create. 

In the B2B world, it’s very different – you are designing a training experience specifically for one client, which means you must show up as a partner and co-creator who takes their unique needs and goals into account.

#3 – However large your audience is, 1/10 of them will pay 10x as much, 1/10 of them will pay 10x that much, etc.

In other words, there is almost certainly a small segment of your customer base that is not price sensitive and would be willing to pay 10 times what you currently charge in exchange for a training event that suits their needs 10x better. 

They are often leading teams within large companies, have existing learning and development (L&D) budgets to spend, and have an urgent problem your education is perfectly suited to solve.

#4 – Target companies with more than 500 employees, which are likely to have substantial training budgets

As B2C creators, we are accustomed to selling to customers who can evaluate an offering, weigh the pros and cons, and then make the decision to purchase, all by themselves. That leads to a very efficient sale – the entire sales process can happen within one person’s head. 

But it also means, by definition, that we are limiting ourselves to individual consumers, freelancers, or small businesses. To grow beyond those small-ticket purchases, we have to wade into the arena of procurement, learning and development departments, executive sponsors, and requests for proposals, all of which come into play when the budgets approach 6 or 7 figures.

#5 – Teams are the secret to enterprise – everyone is on a team, and every team has a leader who is worried about “team performance”

While we will need to work primarily with large companies, that doesn’t mean that we can tackle the entire company as a whole. As Mo Bunnell (founder of leading business development training firm Bunnell Idea Group) told me, “Teams are the secret to enterprise.” 

Teams are discrete, clearly defined groups with a common purpose and a leader. A team usually has a budget to spend and can participate in training together without too much complexity. Focusing on a specific team allows you to deeply understand their context and needs and design an educational solution that suits them.

#6 – You need a funnel for recruiting trainers as robust as the one for recruiting employees

This was another eye-opening idea I heard from Mo – that in order to attract, retain, and eventually replace the best trainers and facilitators, you need to have a recruitment funnel just as robust as the one for recruiting employees. 

That means a dedicated website with messaging that speaks to people’s needs, an application and interview process, and a way to identify and follow up with the best candidates continuously, among other things. Since these trainers will be an extension of your team, you need to put as much thought and care into their experience as for the team itself.

The critical importance of sales

Succeeding in B2B education requires succeeding in sales.

Public online courses can be sold without ever interacting directly with the customer, but not with B2B. This is another reason most small-scale online creators never enter this market – they don’t typically have the means or motivation to master a full-fledged sales operation.

This means recruiting, hiring, training and quality-controlling a team of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), since you don’t want all your sales efforts relying on one person long term. It means identifying and starting conversations with a continuous series of leads, whether inbound (they contact you) or outbound (you contact them). It means creating many systems – from software systems to tracking systems to customer relationship management (CRM) systems to account management systems.

I’ve been intrigued to hear from experts like Tim Grahl who have also found sales calls to be one of their richest sources of customer research. And from experienced entrepreneurs like Grant Baldwin and Bryan Harris who report that if you’re selling high-end, 4-figure training programs, you can likely afford to hire a part-time salesperson as soon as you’re closing 5-10 new customers per month (and pay them based on commission only to keep costs in check).

This is a domain I’ve only begun to familiarize myself with, and which I plan on studying further in the coming months.

Talk with us

I’m interested in having more conversations with people experienced in B2B education, whether entrepreneurs who have built businesses in this area, trainers and facilitators who’ve become certified and practice existing methodologies in their work, or potential candidates for our own certified Second Brain facilitator program.

If any of those match your interests, you can email us at hello@fortelabs.com.

Thank you to Mo Bunnell, Pam Slim, Chad Cannon, Jeremie Kubicek, and others for generously informing these ideas and insights.

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post The B2B Education Frontier: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of Corporate Training appeared first on Forte Labs.

Tiago Forte’s Annual Reviews

2024年1月31日 03:57

This is a compilation of all the personal annual reviews I’ve published, as well as other writing I’ve done about my long-term vision and goals. I’ve also included articles I’ve written about how to make such periodic reviews more effective, including annually, mid-year, monthly, and weekly. In some years my reviews were published as a single blog post, and in others it was divided into separate pieces.

Tiago’s Personal Annual Reviews






Tiago’s Long-Term Vision and Goals

Tiago’s Writing About How and Why to Do Reviews

Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.

The post Tiago Forte’s Annual Reviews appeared first on Forte Labs.

A Journey Between Worlds: The Story of My Ayahuasca Experience

2024年1月22日 21:36

In October 2023, I took part in my first Ayahuasca ceremony.

I had heard about the substance and its effects for years when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I didn’t want to do it in some random apartment in Oakland. I wanted the “real” experience.

I had always thought that meant flying to Peru and spending a week camped out in the jungle with a shaman. But with two kids and a business to run, that prospect seemed less likely than ever. Luckily, earlier last year a friend invited me to participate in a ceremony in what seemed like ideal conditions.

It would take place in a U.S. state where Ayahuasca (known as “aya”) had been decriminalized, which meant I wouldn’t be breaking the law. The site was a beautiful retreat center that had hosted such ceremonies many times before, facilitated by an experienced team that deeply believed in its potential to help people. Secluded high in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by autumn forests and snow-capped peaks, it was the perfect set and setting.

I boarded my plane at LAX and decided to use the flight to set my intentions, a crucial part of any such experience for me. Initially, I had no specific goal in mind or problem I wanted to resolve, so I was surprised to see a long list of desires and hopes pour out onto the pages of my journal:

  • To reconnect with my childlike sense of wonder
  • To access the deeper reasons why I do what I do
  • To find my sense of self-love again
  • To awaken myself to the deeper reality of existence
  • To change my relationship to stimulation, numbing, avoidance, and repressive behaviors via food, media consumption, and my body
  • To fully experience the love and happiness available to me
  • To heal the wounds from my past
  • To unlearn any resistance to certain emotions
  • To connect with my ancient and timeless relationship to the universe
  • To gain relief from my throat pain
  • To uncover the next chapter of my life and career
  • To learn to open up to people and share myself without barriers
  • To discover what I don’t know I don’t know
  • To find out why I resist being present with my two children, Caio and Delia
  • To see who I’m being with them and what they need me to be
  • To deepen my love for my wife Lauren and see her more fully
  • To be a vital force for good in my family and with my friends
  • To go deeper into the psychological/emotional aspects of my work
  • To reconnect with nature and the groundedness it provides
  • To change my neural pathways and remap limiting beliefs and behaviors
  • To surface and resolve any intergenerational trauma manifesting in me
  • To understand the potential of medicinal healing to give people freedom
  • To find the root my relationship with my dad, what was missing and how it can be healed
  • To get back to my essential, authentic self that’s been obscured by adult responsibilities and modern life
  • To generate a new vision for my future that is worth living for
  • To calm my nervous system and learn to let all my emotions flow
  • To be in awe at the miracle of existence

I would call this a “general” set of intentions for my personal growth. They make up the background motivating force that drives me to seek transformative experiences of this kind.

It could be a 10-day silent meditation retreat, doing LSD at Burning Man, a weekend seminar on group dynamics, a week-long coaching intensive, visiting spiritual teachers who’ve inspired me, or hosting business masterminds with entrepreneurs I admire. Sometimes, even reading a particularly impactful book can do the trick.

The important thing is that the experience disrupts my current perspective and way of thinking about my life. It usually has to be an embodied, immersive experience that takes me out of my comfort zone and into a different environment. And I often need a teacher or facilitator to guide me toward the parts of myself I least want to see.

Every time I seek out one of these transformative experiences, it shatters my identity and gives me at least a small taste of ego death – the temporary dissolution of the ego that is constantly narrating my life and defending against new ideas. I know it’s time for the next round of transformation when life starts to feel dull and loses its color.

I wanted Aya to both remind me of who I’d always been – hopeful, enthusiastic, in wonder – and to hint at what the next chapter of life had in store for me. Little did I know, my psyche had its own ideas of what needed my attention, and I’d spend most of the weekend exploring just a couple of these intentions.

Touching down in a mountain sanctuary

I landed in the mountain town near where the ceremony would take place and stepped out into the crisp autumn air. I had no checked bags, as I’d be in and out in just three days. Along with another friend from LA who was joining me, we jumped into the white Jeep Cherokee I’d rented and began the 30-minute drive out of town.

The retreat center was nestled in a secluded valley, surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. Sturdily built cabins of various sizes dotted the gently sloping hillside, covered in wild grasses and alpine trees. A picturesque stream wound through the property, emptying into a small fishing pond. At the center of the property, a large two-story lodge housed the eating area, offices, and reception desk.

I checked in, stowed my bags in a shared room down the road, and met some fellow participants. They ranged in age from their 20s to 70s, but most were in their 30s to 50s. I never found out what most of them did professionally, but got the sense they were mostly in creative fields like art or music, tech, education, fitness, or other healing mediums.

About half of them seemed to live nearby, and the rest had flown in from various parts of the country. I was surprised to learn there were only a handful of newcomers to Aya. For most of the people I talked to, the number of times they’d taken it had become part of their bio (“I’ve sat 5 times”). This was an experienced group who knew each other very well, and had been on a journey I was just joining.

Day 1 – First Encounters

The experience I signed up for included three ceremonies: one per day for three days. Each ceremony lasted around 5-6 hours.

The first of the three took place on Friday, the day we arrived. I nervously prepared my supplies in my room, including a yoga mat, a couple pillows, a meditation chair, a blanket, an eye mask, a water pouch, a headlamp, a journal and pen, and all-white clothing, before heading to the tent.

The ceremonies took place in a large tent-like structure in the middle of a meadow a couple hundred feet from the main lodge. It was white and rectangular, with an entrance door at one end. The walls of the tent were made of transparent plastic sheets, tied down at the corners, which were kept open during the day to allow air and sunshine in, and closed at night as the temperature dropped. The floor was made of plastic sheets, with straw-like mats on the outer edges where the participants laid out their mats.

Stepping inside and surveying the space where I’d spend the next few days, I got a sense of the size of the group. With 30-40 people, it looked like we were taking up almost every inch of the perimeter, leaving only the middle of the floor open. The roof was pitched, about 25 feet high, and at the far ends of the tent, large mandala-like patterns were the only hint of the psychedelic experience to come. Otherwise, everything seemed purely functional.

We gathered at sunset on that first day, settling onto our mats and wrapping ourselves in blankets as the night air turned frigid. Finally, the facilitator walked in, peering at us with an amused, joyful grin as he walked the length of the floor. He was middle-aged, white, tall and thin, with a goatee and cowboy hat framing an angular face that radiated solemnity. He unpacked his gear, which included all sorts of thermoses, bottles, cups, spoons, and other mixing devices as well as candles, incense, and other artifacts I couldn’t identify.

After setting up, he started to speak, introducing us to the shape of the ceremony we would take part in that night. He explained that the Ayahuasca “medicine” or “brew” (the two terms experienced practitioners seem to use most) would amplify whatever was inside us. He explained that the tea we’d be drinking was completely natural, a mixture of two plants found in nature that had been consumed ritually by humans for millennia. He shared a little of his background, his discovery of Aya at a low point in his life as a musician, and how it had changed his mind and his trajectory. Finally, he encouraged us to be open to whatever arose during the ensuing hours and to ask the “helpers” – four or five people who would stay (mostly) sober and roam the tent – for anything we needed, like extra blankets, tissues, water, or a bucket.

A notebook was passed around, and we each wrote down our intention for the night. Struggling to summarize my long list of intentions in one sentence, I wrote simply, “To feel more joy on a daily basis.” Candles were lit, giving the space a mystical vibe as the darkness fell outside. Our facilitator took a few minutes to prepare the tea, and we lined up to receive it. As we reached the front of the line, we asked for the “serving size” we wanted: small, medium, or large.

I asked for a large serving (I wasn’t about to come all this way just to have a mild experience). It was served in a small metal cup, about the size of an espresso. The brew tasted sour and fermented, and was very earthy, like coffee with the grounds mixed in. I drank it immediately, toasting the room as the others had done. Then I returned to my mat, propped myself up with pillows and blankets, and put on my eye mask as recommended to see what was in store for me.

And the answer was, at least that first night: not much. I sat for hours feeling only a slightly heightened sense of perception, which could very well have been due to the unusual circumstances I was in. I tried not to be attached to any expectations, but I could still feel myself already being disappointed that I wasn’t having a mind-blowing, eye-popping vision from the get-go. In my head, I was already composing explanations and theories as to why it “wasn’t working,” and imagined how I would explain to my wife, family, and friends why I’d traveled so far just to sit quietly in a tent.

A couple hours in, around my usual bedtime of 10pm, I started getting very sleepy and lightly dozed for about an hour despite my best efforts to stay awake. When I awoke, I could hear people around me making a variety of sounds – moaning, crying, sobbing, grunting, sighing, growling – indicating deep experiences I had yet to share.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to peek out from my eye mask to see what everyone else was up to. Most sat motionless or barely moving on their mats as instructed, with eye masks on. Other, more experienced people walked around, swayed to the music the facilitator had started playing on his guitar, or danced.

Toward the very end of the night, as the music finished and everyone started to emerge from their layers of blankets, I started to feel something. What came to mind was how hard the last few years have been. The pandemic, becoming a father, writing my book, managing the ups and downs of the business, the war in Ukraine and the people I cared about there… it had all been too much, too fast, and I realized I hadn’t given myself permission to feel the weight of it. I think that’s because it had also been a wonderful time, full of so much novelty and joy and accomplishment. I hadn’t thought I deserved to feel the pain and the grief of it as well.

In the final moments of the first ceremony, I saw clearly who I had to become to survive all of it. I had hardened myself, shut myself down in certain ways, to “make it through” just the next few days, and then the next few weeks, which had then turned into months and years. I’d pushed away people, hobbies, and parts of my life that brought me fulfillment but hadn’t felt essential to my survival amid sleepless nights, crying babies, and a business that had skyrocketed and then plummeted. I’d built a wall between myself and my emotions, telling myself I’d get to them later like a pending to-do list.

As the weight of these realizations settled onto my shoulders, it wasn’t a good feeling. I felt the blackness of it, the hopelessness, the fear that if I let the pain in, it would trap me forever like a prison sentence. But in the presence of so many brave souls, hearing their heartfelt singing and chanting, and hearing what each person took away from the night, I knew I had to find the courage to try.

Day 2 – Confronting Fatherhood

Most of the participants had stayed up late into the night after the first ceremony, excitedly catching up and talking about what they saw, learned, or discovered. Not me though. I’m almost always sleep-deprived because of the kids, and went straight to bed the first night to try and catch up, so I wouldn’t fall asleep again the next day.

I didn’t need to worry though, as the next day’s ceremony took place in the middle of the day, starting around noon. I slept in, enjoyed the wonderful breakfast prepared by the staff, and did some journaling about the night before. We were asked to start the ceremony on an empty stomach, and as midday approached, we gathered our things and started making our way to the tent.

The setup for day 2 was the same as before, following prescribed steps that felt like they’d been refined countless times. I began to see how incredibly thoughtful every little detail of the whole experience was. The way our mats, pillows, and blankets had been organized and folded before we got there. The way distracting sounds like the door opening and closing were minimized so as not to interrupt people’s inner experiences. The way the helpers were always firm yet unobtrusive, leading anyone who needed to make more noise to a separate place outside the tent. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, and informal, but that didn’t mean they missed any attention to detail.

As the second ceremony began, I once again chose a large serving, and this time I was determined to ask for a refill and take another helping, as I’d seen others do the night before. I returned to my mat, put my eye mask on, and peered intently into the darkness of my mind like a magician waiting to see what his incantations would summon.

An hour passed, and once again I felt disappointed, embarrassed, and even ashamed that I wasn’t getting a message. What was I doing wrong? What was wrong with me? This was the dialogue of my conscious, rational mind, and even as it kept railing against me, a rising tide of emotion came up from behind and below me, like a house flooding from the ground up while I waited impatiently upstairs.

Before I knew it, my train of neurotic thoughts was gone, and I saw a vision in my mind’s eye of a giant statue rising ominously before me, like a pillar at Stonehenge, ancient and mythic. And then I realized the statue was my son Caio. It was in that moment that it hit me what I was here for: to grapple with being a father. That aspect of my life had barely appeared in my long list of intentions, but in truth, had been my main preoccupation for a long time.

I found myself bowing before the statue of my son, prostrate, apologizing again and again: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I repeated as tears started pouring down my cheeks. “I’m sorry for not being the father you deserve, for not being patient with you, for not loving you enough, for not allowing all your emotions because it was too hard to allow mine.”

A recent incident arose vividly in my mind, from just a few weeks before. I had been at my parents’ house with my wife and two kids, where we often visit for dinner. Caio had moved a piece of plywood that was blocking a stairwell, preventing our fast-crawling daughter Delia from ascending it. My father reprimanded him sharply, telling him not to move the barrier. It was such a minor interaction, but in that moment, I saw red, and confronted my father just as sharply, telling him not to speak to my son that way.

An argument unfolded, as our differing views on discipline, obedience, parental authority, and childrearing in general clashed like never before. I said I wanted to be gentler and more understanding in my parenting, but it was hard for my father to hear that without feeling defensive, like it was an attack on the way he had raised me (which it kind of was, to be fair).

We talked it through and came to an uneasy resolution, but that incident stuck with me for weeks. I lost sleep over it, wondering if I was spoiling my son on one hand, or perpetuating a disciplinarian style of fatherhood on the other. I could see the good in both sides, but also what each was missing.

Should I insist on my son obeying me always, so I could keep him safe and teach him to respect authority? Or should I always be patient and kind as he expresses and explores his emotions, knowing the importance of self-expression and self-acceptance? Should I discipline him for misbehavior, risking the emotional repression I had experienced myself? Or embrace newer parenting philosophies that emphasize listening and empathy, but which I often don’t feel I have the patience or energy for?

These questions had cycled through my mind incessantly. I felt caught between them, unable to find a compromise but also unable to choose which side of the spectrum I belonged to. But sitting with Aya, I started to see that a lot of my confusion and turmoil stemmed from my own past. I was projecting my own baggage onto both my son and my father.

I was soon transported back to the past, to memories of being spanked by my father. The Ayahuasca amplified those memories, making them far more vivid and lifelike, as if I was really there. I noticed details of my parents’ room, the pattern on the bedspread, the style of the furniture, and the way the light filtered through the windows, that I didn’t even know I remembered.

As I was taken back to that moment, I could suddenly feel all the emotions that had raged inside me at the time. Fear at the next slap of my father’s hand, shame over what I had done, anger that he was doing this to me, and fierce indignation at how I was being treated. I sensed that indignation turning into determination to prove him wrong, a feeling I’d have many times in the coming years anytime I was trying to prove myself to someone. And then eventually I moved through all that and felt the emotion on the other side, which was grief.

The grief came from the interpretation I had made of this discipline: that I had to be different to be loved. That I needed to obey and conform to the demands of others to be worthy. That I needed to become useful, to become indispensable in fact, so that I would never be treated this way again. I found myself asking, again and again, the question that lay at the core of my wound with my father: “Why couldn’t you just love me the way I am?” I wept on my mat, wailing in my mind’s inner voice, expressing the need my child self hadn’t been able to articulate in that moment.

Now here is where Aya is so different from other therapeutic methods. As I was moving through these memories and emotions, all witnessed through my mind’s eye, the feeling of nausea in my stomach was slowly rising. I began to sweat, like when you know you need to throw up but are trying to resist it. Somehow that feeling of nausea became linked to the stories and emotions I was reliving, and the act of resisting that nausea came to represent my resistance to feeling and accepting them. I don’t know how exactly it works, but there came a moment when I realized I would never be free of this story in my mind until I was free from the associated feeling in my body.

Each of us had a small plastic puke bucket ready at the foot of our mats, and this was the time to use it. I slid the eye mask up onto the top of my head, threw off the blanket, and leaned forward onto my hands and knees with the bucket beneath my head. I hate vomiting, but the nausea had gotten too strong.

I vomited hard several times. And in that act, the act of letting go and allowing my body to have the response it wanted to have, something also clicked in my brain. Suddenly that whole experience of being spanked was encapsulated and expelled from my body and mind like a rejected virus. By purging my stomach, I also purged the contents of my mind. The relief that washed over me was the usual relief of having vomited, combined with the relief of finally accepting what had happened to me.

The weird thing is, after all this, I could now see the entire situation from my father’s perspective. Being a father myself now definitely helped. I could see that he wasn’t trying to send any of the messages I had thought I was receiving. In fact, he was trying to send me the message of love, coded in his own language. That he was protecting us siblings from each other by forbidding hitting and kicking. And that he was maintaining his own boundaries – what behavior he would allow and what he wouldn’t, to maintain his own sanity and preserve the calm and order of our household.

My memories of being spanked no longer felt all-consuming and overwhelming. They now felt like a snow globe I was looking at from the outside, turning it this way and that, peering curiously at the chaos and drama unfolding within but knowing that, in a strange way, it wasn’t personal.

I had always heard that vomiting was a common part of Ayahuasca, and it was the main part I dreaded, like many people. The role of vomiting in our culture is secretive and shameful, either something to be embarrassed about (because you drank too much) or gotten over with as quickly as possible (if you’re sick). I had assumed it was just an unfortunate side effect of drinking the brew, but it was through this experience on the second day that I understood it is essential.

Here’s my theory as to why: When you have an insight or realization about your past or your trauma, that happens primarily in the mind. It is the mind that comes up with theories, explanations, stories, interpretations, justifications, and reframes. You might have a profound realization that completely changes your perspective, but the body doesn’t know anything about that. The body speaks in a much more primitive language, the language of bodily fluids and internal movements such as yes, vomiting.

And it’s critical that the realization you’ve had finds its way into the body, because that is where the trauma actually resides. Trauma isn’t merely intellectual; what happened to you remains embedded in your nervous system, in your muscles and fascia, even in the way your metabolism functions, your lungs breathe, and your shoulders hold themselves. This is why trauma is so hard to heal from – it remains lodged in the tissues of the body, which continue to send the same urgent signals of fight or flight no matter how many insights you think you’ve had.

As far as I can tell, the disgust/gag/vomit reflex is your body’s way of purging something at the most visceral level. It’s not just an inconvenient side effect. It’s your body’s way of rejecting a thought or identity the same way it would reject poison or a spoiled piece of food, as something that is hurting you and needs to be expelled at all costs. Each time I found myself fighting the nausea and the urge to throw up, I also noticed I was fighting a realization or idea in my mind. Once I surrendered to one, I found relief from the other as well.

Day 3 – A Warrior’s Gift

We sat for the third ceremony on Sunday afternoon, once again gathering in the white tent around midday.

The previous day, our guide had explained that the active ingredient in Ayahuasca is DMT (short for Dimethyltryptamine). It’s a psychedelic compound that occurs naturally in a variety of plants found in South America. The Ayahuasca brew combines several of these plants together and distills them, making the effect much more potent and longer-lasting.

One reason to partake in the ceremony on consecutive days is that the level of DMT in your blood builds with each session. This might explain why people often report minimal or no effect on the first day – their DMT levels have not yet reached a certain threshold.

On day three, I think I was right at that threshold, because I plunged straight into a trip as soon as I drank my first cup.

I found myself in a large field, with tall, tan-colored grasses swaying in the wind around me in all directions. A few small clusters of trees stood together in the distance. I was face to face with a well-built man, with coffee-brown skin and a thick mustache, eyeing me intently from a dozen feet away. He was wearing leather armor, and a thick cloak, and I could see he was an experienced warrior. I was in Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey, over a thousand years ago (I somehow knew). And this man was my ancestor, a warrior from the steppes who had entered Europe across the land bridge from Asia.

Checking in briefly with my rational mind, the scenario was plausible. My family and I are obsessed with genealogy, and have spent many years tracing each branch of our family tree as far back as the 1500s in France and Northern Italy. It made sense that at some point in the past some ancestor of mine could have entered Europe this way.

But the factual details of the scene weren’t the point. The point was the message this man gave me: that we had always been caught between two worlds. I didn’t understand the significance of this at first, but as I thought back through what I knew about my family’s history, it began to make sense.

My father was born in the Philippines shortly after World War II and moved to California as a toddler, but had always felt there was “something missing in his heart” from his lost homeland. My mother had immigrated from Brazil to the U.S. and wholeheartedly adopted her new culture, but had always missed the feeling of togetherness that the more individualistic U.S. lacked. My grandfather had left the working-class neighborhood of his youth in Upstate New York to become an Air Force captain, successful entrepreneur, and world traveler, yet never lost the extreme frugality of his roots. And my grandmother had left the Philippines to start a brand-new life in Santa Barbara after World War II, but lingering anti-Asian racism had always lurked in the background.

Going further back, I had ancestors who’d moved from Canada to New York because they couldn’t own land in Canada as Protestants. A couple generations before that, they’d fled persecution in France as Protestant Huguenots, settling in the United Kingdom briefly before departing for North America. As far back as the 1600s, I knew of a distant ancestor of ours in Italy named Marco Vincent who had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism during the Reformation, only to convert back once he saw the division and infighting among the many proliferating sects. He was executed by the Catholic Church for his idealism, hanged from a bridge in Rome as an apostate. In the Philippines, we had less information but knew our family had originally come from China centuries earlier.

I don’t know why I had never fully connected the dots between all these stories, but once I did, I could clearly see that for many generations in my family, we were a people caught between worlds. We were always immigrants, seekers, explorers, and entrepreneurs, willing to risk it all to find a new homeland or a new faith or both. 

Facing this mythical Anatolian warrior in an open field, I suddenly understood where the feeling I’ve always had—that I don’t belong anywhere and can’t fit in—might have come from. It wasn’t something uniquely wrong with me. It was part of my inheritance.

And then I suddenly saw the other part of my inheritance – why my entire life, I had felt compelled to serve as a bridge between worlds: between the U.S. and Brazil, between Christianity and secular culture, between conservatives and liberals, between masculine and feminine, between left-brained and right-brained ways of thinking. I’d felt an irresistible urge to bridge the worlds I was a part of because I could clearly see how they could learn and benefit from each other tremendously. This was, I realized, the other side of the coin of the alienation and isolation I had always felt: a precious birthright, to transform the pain of separation I’d inherited into a source of love and connection.

Our guide had explained the night before that people often have some combination of three experiences during their Ayahuasca journey: the hospital, the school, and the church. The hospital represents healing—a sickness or wound the medicine is going to work on. The school symbolizes learning—a lesson or idea the medicine is teaching you. The church represents transcendence to a higher plane, where the self dissolves and you are left in wonder.

Day 2 had been like school for me, but the rest of day 3 would be all about the hospital.

I next found myself returning to that child self that had first emerged the day before. He wasn’t done with me. It felt like a cork had been unstopped, and powerful emotions poured out as a result. I felt rage, sadness, indignation, and fear coming together in a full-blown tantrum. I could sense my adult self standing aside and allowing that child to fully express everything wrong and bad in the world.

I was confronted by the recognition that so much of the time I’m still trying to survive, still just trying to get by. Trying to make it through a busy day at work. Trying to make it through a grueling workout at the gym. Trying to make it through the dishes, or the laundry, or email. Trying to get this Ayahuasca experience itself over with to get on to something else. But to what? What was the place I was always waiting to arrive at?

“Where is the joy I was promised in life? Why do I have to do all this? Why can’t I just be free and play and have fun? I was told that if I worked hard, and was responsible, and followed the rules, and achieved my goals, that there would be a life full of joy on the other side that I could just enjoy. Instead there’s just more chores, more responsibilities, more waiting. I’m tired of trying to be useful all the time. I’m tired of trying to take up less space, of trying to have fewer needs, of trying to get appreciation so that one day I can be happy.

As these thoughts and accompanying emotions ricocheted through my mind and heart, I knew that this was healthy and good. These were thoughts and feelings that had been bottled up for so long, suppressed under the weight of adult logic. I knew they weren’t necessarily true, but they were useful.

It was time to let the body express itself too. I felt like I needed to walk and so I stepped outside the tent, puke bucket in hand. Before I knew it, I was on all fours in the dirt, heaving and then vomiting harder than I ever had before. I vomited so hard that my whole body was being lifted into the air each time, like a bucking horse, my entire spine convulsing as if to get every last molecule of this pain out of me.

I was by a creek bed by myself, and as I vomited again and again, I had what felt like a memory of being an animal, alone and sick and secluded, purging itself in the wilderness. I felt that child self expressing himself through writhing and hitting the ground and shaking all my limbs. I could understand my three-year-old son so much better in that moment, what he was feeling when he lost control and screamed and hit me and threw things.

Often in the past, I had taken his tantrums personally, as if he was purposefully trying to hurt me and make my life more difficult. But mirroring his experience, I could see that there was something pure and righteous and beautiful in his anger. When he screamed at the top of his lungs during timeouts – “I’m not a bad guy!” – he was fighting for his needs, and for his wants, and not apologizing for them. He was defending his boundaries, trying to find his voice. He was fighting for his right to be heard, and to be seen, and to be loved even in the midst of his most fierce rebellion.

Realizing that, I was again transported back to my parents’ bedroom where I’d been spanked as a child. And I found the words I needed to say to my father in that moment: I’m not bad. I’m good. I’m not bad. I’m good. And now my adult self could interpret those childlike words: All I needed then was to be heard and accepted and loved. I needed to know that you could still love me even in the midst of my anger and rebellion.

Returning to the present, I could see the ways I’d perpetuated the story that my son wasn’t lovable when he was angry or defiant. I couldn’t be with his anger because I couldn’t be with mine, because my father couldn’t be with my anger as a child, because he couldn’t be with his own anger…stretching back for probably many generations.

Emerging from this experience, I could now see my son’s rebellion as sacred. I could see that sometimes he acted out with me because he knew he was safe with me. I could see that what he most wanted was for me to be with him. Not to fix or change him, but to go with him through the eye of the emotional storm he was facing.

Knowing what to do during his misbehavior, acting out, or tantrums has been one of the greatest challenges for me as a father, and having processed the emotions it was provoking in me, I suddenly had an incredibly clear insight into a better way of approaching them: being with Caio during his tantrums could be like a sitter taking care of someone who was tripping.

In both cases, they aren’t themselves, aren’t in control. They are undergoing their own process and don’t need my intervention, either by rescuing or trying to change them. It isn’t about me, so there is no reason to take their behavior personally. They are giving voice to something within themselves, and all they need is for me to keep them safe, stop them from hurting themselves or others, and witness them without judgment or shame.

This was all so intense, that I needed a break, which was as simple as taking off my eye mask and flooding my senses with the outside world. I was surprised to find I had complete control over entering and exiting the experience, like hitting play and pause on a video game. But the DMT was peaking in my bloodstream, and I felt the medicine calling to me to come back, like a steady gravitational pull inward.

I sat beside the creek again, closed my eyes, and within minutes felt so much information rushing into my brain, it was like staring into the sun. Beams of pure truth, beauty, and love flooded my brain so fast I couldn’t resist. I felt like I was being obliterated into a million pieces by the sheer magnitude of the universe, crushing me with its magnificence.

For a brief moment, I vividly remembered what it was like the last time I’d felt so much love: as a baby, wrapped in the pure, unconditional love of my parents. I felt something in my relationship with them healing. I understood what they had been trying to do back then, and accepted it, and appreciated it. I could see our relationship, then and now, from both sides, as a child and as an adult. Everything had happened for a reason, even (especially) their mistakes – to give me the chance to heal myself and to feel this beautiful array of emotions, here by the creekside in the mountains in 2023.

The Aftermath – Returning to life post-Ayahuasca

Although the retreat was only 3 days, coming back from it felt like rejoining society after months away. I felt calmer, more centered, more joyful, and clearer than I ever remember feeling. I was also almost unbelievably emotionally fluid, moving seamlessly from sadness to elation and back again.

During the first week, I found myself brought to tears holding my daughter in my arms, seeing my son playing in the garden, or hearing a beautiful song. All my emotions felt so close to the surface, so accessible, and those days were filled with wonder.

I called each of my siblings and my parents and told them about my experience, and shared how deeply connected I felt to them because of it. With my parents, I told them about remembering that infantile feeling of being completely immersed in their unconditional love, and how much that meant to me, and I felt they received the ultimate gift of a child: unqualified gratitude for bringing them into the world.

For the first two weeks back, I noticed I had zero cravings for anything—sugar, coffee, social media, TV—these seemed almost repulsive to me, designed to numb and distract me from a beautiful state of mind I had no desire to leave. I was kinder to myself, and to others. More patient, more loving, and strangely, more “myself.”

I gained tremendous clarity about my work and business, making dozens of decisions that had stymied me and been left unresolved for too long. I suddenly had so much perspective about what mattered in the business, and which projects and goals I’d been pursuing to inflate my ego, or defend my pride, or impress someone. I forgave myself for that and quietly let those fall by the wayside.

It’s now been over two months, and while many of the benefits of that temporary high have subsided and life is largely back to “normal,” I can still feel the lingering effects of my Ayahuasca journey: more ease, more peace, more presence, especially with the kids. I have less need for coffee and other stimulating or numbing agents to feel okay. Oddly, my anxiety has subsided so much that I’ve lost all motivation to meditate or exercise, which I normally do as a response to stress. I’ve remained closer and more connected to my wife, my brothers and sister, and my parents, a closeness that finds expression through small moments of intimacy and vulnerability that now feel more accessible to me.

I often find the long-term effects of transformative experiences to be this way: a kind of subtle softening of my mind’s hard edges, and a background feeling of joy that almost unnoticeably pervades my days without making a big show of itself.

On the subject of childhood discipline, you might think after all the healing and inner work needed for me to make peace with being spanked as a child, I would be very reluctant to discipline my own child. But I’ve found the exact opposite to be true: now that I’ve processed and integrated my own past, I’m much more clear and direct in my authority with our kids. Instead of constantly second-guessing myself, and appeasing them to avoid confrontation, I’m more confident in drawing boundaries and creating consequences for crossing them. The result has been a happier household where my son knows what’s allowed and what’s not.

Reflections – Plant medicine as information technology

I’ve tried to share the details of my personal breakthroughs with Ayahuasca to convey their depth and impact. But the experience also gave me a lot of ideas and insights into how the medicine interacts with our minds, illuminating long-held theories of mine.

One way of understanding the effects of DMT is to imagine the connectivity of the brain increasing exponentially. Parts of the brain that don’t normally communicate find themselves suddenly talking, which is the source of the insights and realizations.

Looking back through the many pages of notes I took from this experience, it strikes me that all the information I needed to make these connections was already present in my brain. Ayahuasca itself is “content neutral” – it doesn’t impose its own doctrines or dogma on you. The guide provides some context, but there is nothing you have to believe, accept, or understand to receive the benefits. All the wisdom I needed was within me the whole time, not just at a mystical level, but on an information-theoretic level. I just needed more connectivity to make it all make sense.

This suggests to me a fascinating way of understanding what Ayahuasca is doing to achieve its transformative effects. This theory is my own, and I’ll present it here with the disclaimer that it’s based primarily on my own experiences.

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk cites recent neurological discoveries indicating that trauma causes actual physiological changes in the brain. Among them are changes in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant. This makes the world overwhelming and threatening since the brain can’t distill what it needs to know and pay attention to. In other words, trauma from our past can contribute to information overload.

What if we understood trauma not just as a specific event involving personal injury, but as a distortion in the information system that is our brain? That would allow us to remove the lens of trauma as something inherently “bad,” and reframe it as simply “the way our nervous system is tuned.”

Dr. van der Kolk notes that the introduction of psychiatric medications in recent decades has provoked a revolution in the treatment of trauma and mental illness. Yet they also have limitations, such as possibly deflecting attention from underlying causes.

Studies of Prozac found that it doesn’t help combat veterans, for example. Antidepressants haven’t led to a remission of depression in society; in fact, the diagnosis has exploded, with 10% of Americans now taking them. Medications for attention deficit disorders have skyrocketed in popularity, especially for children, but Dr. van der Kolk says they may interfere with motivation, play, and curiosity and are linked to childhood obesity and diabetes.

His conclusion is that psychiatric medications can alleviate some symptoms of trauma, but not “cure” it. This is where I think Ayahuasca and other “plant medicines” have such a crucial role to play: they work not just on the mind, but on the body. They aren’t just cognitive, but somatic.

Unlike pharmaceuticals produced in a lab, the ingredients of Ayahuasca are naturally occurring. Because they are found in nature, they are part of a long tradition of shamanic practices, with established rules, guidelines, and rituals that provide a lot of context and mitigate risk.

Another difference is that Ayahuasca doesn’t merely suppress or alleviate the symptoms of trauma. In fact, just the opposite: it reveals the symptoms and amplifies the thoughts and emotions linked to them. The “container” of Ayahuasca is designed to give you the courage and safety to go straight to the root of the trauma causing you pain.

And what exactly is that root? Even when it comes to the experience of one person, my own, it can be quite varied. Sometimes it involved specific events from my past, including the interpretations or narratives I created to explain those events, or who I believed I had to become in response to those events. In other cases, the root of psychological symptoms was a mindset or belief I had adopted in order to survive a situation, which had served me well at the time but no longer. In still other cases, it was a limiting assumption about how other people saw me, or an old identity that had once been true but no longer was, or a “way of being” in the world that increasingly didn’t serve me as that world changed, or a bad habit I’d adopted as a coping mechanism that was now spiraling out of control.

This makes me wonder: is there really any difference between all the above mental concepts? Aren’t they all just labels we’ve invented for bits of information in our brains? By reducing everything to information – to bits, encoded as 1s and 0s, or neuron firings, or the thickness of a myelin sheath – couldn’t we treat it all as just ripples and eddies in the constant flux of information making its way through our brain?

We can examine each element of my Ayahuasca experience through this lens:

  • The location in nature provided me with information that grounded me in the present moment and reminded me of my evolutionary environment
  • The healthy food and drink communicated to my body that this was a place of nourishment and refuge
  • A group of warm, welcoming people who had experienced this before gave me role models for how I should conduct myself through the weekend
  • Having the helpers and so many other forms of support available allowed me to let go of worries that I would “lose control” or not have a basic need met

I’m astonished looking back at how every element worked together so harmoniously to create an experience that I would describe as deeply meaningful and profoundly healing. It strikes me as an incredibly efficient process: how many hours of talk therapy and thousands of dollars would have been needed to reach the same conclusions? Would such realizations even be possible, or sink in so deeply, without something shifting at the somatic level?

Ayahuasca and other plant medicines are gradually gaining acceptance across the United States and abroad. They are being sanctioned for therapeutic uses in a number of states, often under professional care or in the context of a religious tradition. When I look at the vast landscape of trauma in the world, I think we need every tool available. And Ayahuasca is one of the most promising and transformational I’ve ever encountered.

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The post A Journey Between Worlds: The Story of My Ayahuasca Experience appeared first on Forte Labs.

Tiago Forte’s 2023 Annual Review

2024年1月8日 22:45

This year feels like an especially major milestone, for a few reasons.

First, because it officially marks 10 years that Forte Labs has been in business. In June 2013, I left my consulting job with plans to work on independent projects for a couple months before seeking my next one. Little did I know those months would stretch out for a decade.

Second, this year marks the statistical halfway point of my life. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, as a male born in 1985, I’m projected to live another 38 years (based on the most recent 2020 mortality data) to the age of 76, in 2061 (though that estimate will be pushed forward as I age).

I don’t know why I’m so morbidly fascinated by things like this. I don’t have a particularly strong fear of death, but I do find these kinds of estimates helpful to give me a sense of perspective and ask myself questions like:

  • What would I do differently if I knew my life was halfway over?
  • What would I change if I knew my life was 10 years shorter than that estimate? What about 20 years?
  • What would I do differently if it was 10 or 20 years longer?

Third, now that we have two kids, I suddenly have a timeline for the next couple decades. They are 1 and 3 years old, so I know that they will be kids from now until about 2035, or 11 more years. And assuming they leave home at 18, they’ll live with us until 2040, or another 16 years. Those spans of time feel so short, it makes me think more purposefully about how I want to spend them.

I know it’s weird to think about childhood so mathematically, but again I find it helpful to ask these kinds of questions:

  • What kinds of experiences do I want to have with my kids while they’re young?
  • Where do I want to travel and live with them while they’re impressionable?
  • What are the important life events I want to be part of?
  • What experiences and activities do I want to have after they leave home?

Considering this biggest of pictures, this is the first time I’m doing a year-end review with the past and future decades in mind. How do I want to live my life in 2024 to lay the groundwork for that future?

Let’s start by recapping what happened in 2023.

2023 – A Year of Reinvention

In August, I published an in-depth article about how we planned to recover from an 87% drop in profit from 2021 to 2022, which functioned as something of a “mid-year” review. Now that those plans have come to fruition, I’m very happy to share…it worked!

We finished the year with about $2 million in revenue, and a decent 20% profit margin as a company. In other words, revenue was flat from the year before, but we managed to return to profitability after just about breaking even in 2022.

My theme for 2023 was “reinvention,” and it indeed took an almost complete overhaul of the business to turn the corner. Here were the 3 most important efforts we undertook to make it happen:

  1. Cost-cutting multiple five-figures worth of recurring expenses (which you can read about in full here)
  2. Letting go of six full-time staff over the course of the year and relying more on contractors instead
  3. Creating multiple new revenue streams by leveraging our existing content and audience

Let me say more about each of these.

#1 – Cost-cutting multiple five-figures worth of recurring expenses

This year I had to really reexamine my attitude towards spending, and money in general.

I’ve always been a free spender when it comes to books, courses, coaching, software, and other investments in the business. I don’t buy luxury clothes, cars, or furniture, but anything that has a potential return on investment I’m usually game for.

That attitude has created a lot of upside for me over the years, allowing me to learn new skills and take advantage of many opportunities. But 2021 to 2022 was the first time we didn’t grow as a company, which forced me to reconsider my attitude.

As long as a company is growing, almost any investment seems worthwhile. It only makes sense to take the profits being generated and funnel them back into more growth. But the minute a company is no longer profitable, then no investment makes sense. You suddenly can’t afford to invest in anything, because every dollar of additional spending just sends you deeper into the hole of unprofitability.

It is this about-face shift – from investing in many things to investing in nothing – that was so hard for me to make. I had to really rethink fundamental assumptions I held, for example:

  • Always prioritizing the long term instead of the short term (there is no long term if you don’t make it through the short term)
  • A willingness to take financial risks for potentially large rewards (though the calculus changes a lot when you have kids and payroll to make and can’t sleep at night)
  • Believing that “money isn’t important” (it suddenly becomes important when you don’t have enough of it)

I was able to trace back my free-spending attitudes to my childhood. Growing up with a very frugal father, I interpreted that frugality as stinginess and a lack of generosity. So I subconsciously reacted against that in adulthood by deciding I would be the exact opposite. In my mind, I was being generous, saying yes to everything from expensive SaaS subscriptions to high-end MacBook Pros to new full-time hires and more.

You can probably see where this is going. This level of spending is fine as long as the money is rolling in, as it did during the boom times in the online course industry during the pandemic. If that had continued for years, I would probably have dug us into an even deeper hole. Luckily, the slump in course sales at the end of the pandemic forced a reckoning.

I’ve learned that money buys peace of mind, which is priceless. So you can think of each dollar saved as a dollar invested in calm days and nights of deep sleep. I learned that most expenses are so easy to start, but often quite difficult to stop (made more difficult on purpose by many companies), so you have to take this into account and spend less than you theoretically could. I learned about the importance of a thick, healthy margin, which is what allows a company to experiment, invest in the future, and spend the time and effort needed to develop new products that won’t bring in revenue for some time.

Most of all, I learned that gratitude is a privilege, and something that has to be earned. Only profitable, growing companies can afford to be generous – with their employees, their contractors, their collaborators, and ultimately their customers. This lesson came to a head most clearly and painfully when we reached a breaking point and I had no choice but to let go of full-time staff.

#2 – Letting go of six full-time staff over the course of the year and relying more on contractors instead

These were some of the hardest moments of 2023 for me. Deactivating a SaaS subscription or winding down a contractor gig is one thing, but terminating the full-time employment of someone who relies completely on that income? Whose family depends on their health insurance? That’s altogether different.

It was difficult for me not to see each of the staff I had to let go this year as a personal failure of mine. They trusted me with their time and attention and a good chunk of their careers, and I failed to put their contributions to productive, profitable use. I know these were business agreements that either side could terminate “at will,” but nevertheless, I find it really hard to see it that way.

I learned an important lesson about the difference between full-time W-2 employees and contractors. It’s not a small one. For the first couple years I started building the team, I had preferred hiring W-2 employees over contractors, because I assumed that I would get an extra “bump” in productivity and value added due to them being able to dedicate 100% of their time and attention to the business.

In retrospect, that preference is mine, and I assumed it was true for everyone else. I like being completely, 100% immersed and committed to one thing – that’s why I’m an entrepreneur! But for a small, Internet-based business like ours, most of the “jobs-to-be-done” aren’t actually full-time jobs. We often only need someone part-time, or seasonally, or for certain specialized tasks that can be done on a project basis, and often using reusable templates, automated systems, or their own specialized contractors to get it done fast.

Essentially, I had to personally discover why so much of the economy is moving to independent contractors these days: not only because they are less expensive and can be dialed up or down as the business fluctuates, but because buying more of someone’s time doesn’t always lead to a proportional increase in value added. In many cases, each additional hour purchased yields diminishing returns.

The new rules I’ve come up with for when to hire (especially full-time) are as follows:

  • DO NOT hire just to solve a problem (there are endless problems in a business, which would then necessitate endless hires)
  • DO NOT hire just because an existing employee is overwhelmed or overloaded (which often obscures the root issue and dumps the worst of their workload onto the new person, which is demoralizing)
  • DO NOT hire just to make my life easier (because that additional payroll will be a constant stressor, making my life harder instead)
  • DO NOT hire if the issue can be addressed by eliminating it altogether, delegating it, outsourcing it, or automating it using software or systems
  • ONLY HIRE if there will be a direct, measurable growth in profit (not just revenue) attributable to the hire, with a clear scope and metrics of success defined from the start

In other words, it is only the highest performers, in the most critical roles, with a direct lever to increase the profitability of the business, who can justifiably be hired full time.

We spent most of the year transitioning almost completely away from W-2 employees as a result, while also reducing our total headcount 26% from 19 to 14. The team we have now is not only more appropriate for our size, but is tighter-knit and more flexible since there are now fewer people to coordinate on any decision.

Forte Labs Org Chart

#3 – Creating multiple new revenue streams by leveraging our existing content and audience

For the first 9 years of the business, over 90% of our revenue came from a single source: our live, cohort-based course Building a Second Brain (BASB).

Looking back, putting all our eggs in this one basket was a smart move and an incredible blessing. Because we were able to focus most of our efforts on this one product, we were perfectly poised to take advantage of the explosion in online education once the pandemic hit. In March of 2020, no one had a better live course with a better track record than us, and the format of live cohorts delivered via Zoom (which everyone now knew how to use) meant we could capture so much of that demand with a tiny team.

I knew that online course sales couldn’t continue at that level forever, but the speed and severity of the drop-off hit me by surprise. At the start of 2023, the numbers couldn’t lie: we needed to diversify and find new ways of making money. We began that effort in earnest in Q1, identifying 6 new revenue streams we could spin up using existing assets and sell to our quickly growing audience (fueled by YouTube and book sales).

I can now report back on how each of those efforts played out:

Upgraded our affiliate program: We created a new Recommended Tools page listing all our favorite SaaS tools, and began recommending our favorite online courses by other creators, generating a few thousand dollars so far.

Produced 5 sponsored YouTube videos and a dozen newsletter placements: We began partnering with other companies on sponsored videos for our YouTube channel and placements in our weekly newsletter, generating six figures in revenue for the year.

Hosted the third annual Second Brain Virtual Summit: We made this a paid event for the first time, and it made four figures in revenue.

Offered a new standalone virtual workshop on How to Use AI for Your Second Brain: I summarized everything I learned over several months of immersion in the generative AI world, which made five figures in revenue, plus ongoing sales of the recording.

Created an all-new BASB Foundation 2.0 course: This was the first time we applied everything we’ve learned about creating high-quality educational YouTube videos to courses, and the relaunch generated a few hundred thousand in revenue, plus it can now be purchased year-round.

Published The PARA Method book: We put this book together in about 5 months from start to finish, using mostly existing content from the blog, generating over $100,000 USD in book advances and 25,000 copies sold so far.

Launched the Pillars of Productivity course: For the last few months of the year, our focus was on creating a whole new course from scratch, for the first time in years. The launch went spectacularly well, generating over $400,000 in revenue from more than 2,000 students.

From one year ago to today, we’ve expanded from 1 to 5 major sources of revenue, while also making our sales asynchronous again so we have the bandwidth to create even more new things in 2024 (the yellow slice refers to “Second Brain Memberships”):

It took more work than I expected, as is usually the case, but we’re now on the firmest financial footing we’ve ever been on since we don’t have to rely on a single product anymore.

Lessons learned on YouTube: It’s all about quality, not consistency

Over the last couple of years, I’ve invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and attention into growing our YouTube channel. In August 2022, I published a blog post declaring that I was going all-in on YouTube, and I remain convinced today that it’s the single most promising educational platform in the world.

As of August 2023, 12 months after that declaration and 18 months into taking the platform seriously, here are our results:

  • We released 30 videos, gained 160,000 subscribers, and received 5.5M views in that time
  • We spent $346,000, including:
    • $209,000 for an Executive Producer
    • $41,400 on video editors
    • $24,586 on buying and renting gear
    • $24,500 for an assistant producer
    • $17,500 on travel expenses for off-site shoots
    • $10,000 for a studio design consultant
    • $9,600 for an on-site producer for shoots
    • $5,565 on software and services
    • $2,000 for an on-site production assistant
    • $1,500 on animations
  • We made $445,000, including:
    • $353,965 from attributed course sales
    • $60,000 from sponsors
    • $30,878 from Google AdSense
  • We profited $99,000, for a 22% gross margin
  • On average, we spent $11,524 and gained 5,356 new subscribers per video, which means for each subscriber we spent $2 and made $3
  • It took us 22 days on average to produce each video

These numbers are strong, but still rely heavily on course sales to justify; without those, it would be a deeply money-losing endeavor.

In summer 2023, we had to reduce the team dedicated to YouTube, and streamline our production process to make it cheaper and faster. Over the last 4 months, we’ve succeeded in sticking to a 2-week publishing schedule, but at the cost of considerably lower views and engagement in general. Subscriber growth held steady and even accelerated a bit, but I think that was most likely due to the accumulated strength of our existing videos.

My conclusion is that it is really hard to consistently make exceptional quality YouTube videos, and it’s especially hard to do it on a budget and without multiple dedicated specialists. We’ve had to dial back our investment in video production, but we’re clearly seeing the impact of lower-performing videos that are causing our growth to stall.

In 2024, we’ll try to course correct by finding new ways to improve our video quality and virality without breaking the bank. Now that we’ve mastered consistency, it’s time for the pendulum to swing back and for us to focus on maximizing quality once again. The power of YouTube is in its leverage – the ability to do more and more with less and less over time – and I’m looking for ways to find that leverage while keeping costs low.

The long arc of my career

Since this year marks our 10-year anniversary as a company, I decided to go back and reconstruct our financial trajectory over that period. We’ve made $8,959,404 in that time, spent $5,419,600, and profited $3,341,769. The great majority of that came in the last 3 years.

A few interesting points jumped out at me from this analysis.

First, when divided over 10 years, my income comes out to $334,177 per year on average. This is a great income, to be sure, but it isn’t that far off from what a mid-level tech manager or executive at a large company would make. I’m probably in the top 0.1% of most financially prosperous creators, yet my income is still comparable to a lot of “traditional” jobs that involve far less risk. To me, that’s a sign that we’re still in the early days of the Creator Economy.

Second, my annual income for the first four years of self-employment was $31,601, $46,947, $81,009, and $38,478, respectively. Those are not very strong numbers for the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived during this period. Even with a lot of built-in advantages, it still took me almost half a decade to start making a wage that was sustainable for the long term. This lends support to the idea that a lot of business success is just avoiding going bankrupt.

Third, this graph clearly displays the main “eras” that have defined my career (borrowing a page from Taylor Swift):

2013 to 2015 was the Research Era. I was just trying different things (from online courses to corporate training to consulting to live workshops) to see what I wanted to focus on. I began facilitating corporate trainings, which were lucrative and responsible for the slight rise in revenue from 2014 to 2015 (which felt huge at the time). But I quickly realized that corporate training was not my true calling, and thereafter turned my attention to online courses.

2016 to 2020 was the Cohort Era. I zeroed in on digital notetaking apps and personal knowledge management as my niche, and poured all my time and energy into teaching Building a Second Brain. Delivering live cohorts was tremendously satisfying, but eventually I began to get tired of doing everything myself. I started hiring course staff to take care of the logistical details, and later, stepped away from teaching altogether.

2021 to 2022 was the Book Era. I dedicated myself to writing my first book, based on the BASB course material. My main focus was on getting that book to the finish line and releasing it as widely as possible. I found book writing tremendously enjoyable and fulfilling and plan on continuing it in the future.

2023 was clearly the start of my fourth era, but I don’t know what to call it yet. My books are still going strong, but aren’t my main priority anymore. We’re still creating courses, but no longer teaching them live. YouTube has been the biggest new area of investment recently, but is also now more or less on autopilot, and I’m not sure I’m going to massively increase my attention there.

It strikes me that I’ve tested two theories over the last few years about what would drive our growth as a business.

Initially, at the start of the pandemic, cohort-based courses were taking off so fast I thought that we should expand horizontally, becoming a kind of online productivity school for a wide range of live courses and instructors. I helped David Perell create Write of Passage, briefly had Nat Eliason’s course Effortless Output with Roam on our platform, and even talked to Ali Abdaal about hosting his Part-Time YouTuber Academy.

But as soon as we started walking down that path, it became clear it wasn’t the right one. There were so many things my team and I would have had to do to truly become a platform, from handling customer service and disputed payments to facilitating course creation and marketing. I had no desire to do those things, so we quickly dropped the idea and went back to focusing on our own programs.

My second theory was that we should instead expand vertically, translating the BASB intellectual property into many other formats and mediums (such as books, workbooks, audiobooks, TV shows, in-person events, and maybe even clothing, games, and toys). The idea was to try and make BASB into a truly recognizable and differentiated global education brand. 

The two books I published were a step in that direction, but I’ve since become doubtful about this path as well. It would require us to learn completely new skills, like licensing, product design, retail distribution, paid acquisition, etc., that I don’t personally have much interest in, while simultaneously leaving behind our core market of online courses that continues to be so in demand and profitable.

So now I’m biding my time a bit to see what I feel called to. It could still involve a mix of horizontal or vertical integration, but I need to see signs that we’d be uniquely effective at something before choosing a new theory to operate on. In the meantime, we’ll continue to nurture our audience on the various platforms we’re active on, grow our existing products, and hopefully be ready for the next big opportunity when it arrives.

Resisting the urge to find the “next big thing”

I notice an internal urge to quickly decide what the “next big thing” should be so that I have a single point of focus to orient my life around. I also sense an accompanying fear: that if I don’t pick the next target, I’ll waste time and my efforts will dissipate in different directions.

I wonder if the business has transitioned into a new phase where it’s more about systematically growing multiple revenue streams in parallel, rather than “betting the company” on a single bold new direction. There’s something about that that feels calming and reassuring, but also a little sad, like my halcyon days of youth may be over and I’ve now reached “maturity” as a creator.

That said, after a rollercoaster few years, I’m definitely looking forward to a new season of business going back to “normal,” although with everything going on in the world, maybe that’s too optimistic.

In last year’s annual review, I noted that “You have to address unwanted symptoms by addressing the root cause, asking questions like: What is the source of the pattern that’s playing out across the different areas of my life? What is the bottleneck in my thinking or behavior that is leading to all the other negative side effects? What kind of life am I living that is producing these symptoms? Who am I being at my core that is manifesting these issues?”

Asking myself those questions many times over the last year, the answer couldn’t have been clearer: it was burnout, plain and simple. I’d given too much over the previous couple of years to capitalize on the pandemic boom, while simultaneously writing two books, and also having two kids. What has surprised me so much is just how long it takes to recover from that kind of long-term burnout.

It’s not just taking a vacation, or catching up on sleep, or finishing a stressful project, or even cleaning up your diet, getting more exercise, and changing your daily routines. All of that is necessary, but not sufficient.

I think what really makes recovering from burnout a lengthy process is changing who you are (or rather who you’ve been) as a result of that overextended season. I noticed that I’d made a kind of internal mental policy that “work comes first.” I would give the best of my time, energy, and attention to my work, and my family and friends got whatever was left over. Even after recognizing that attitude, it’s taken a long time to shift because it’s embedded so deeply in my thinking.

I’ve been in survival mode, one of the symptoms of which is deprioritizing or outright ignoring anything that doesn’t seem essential to getting through the next day/week/month.

That has meant ignoring house projects, and the chaos and messiness of our home is the predictable result. Now that I’m waking up to this fact, it’s almost overwhelming how much there is to do at home: possessions to declutter and get rid of, spaces to clean out and organize, appliances to fix, etc. This has created a bit of a self-reinforcing loop, as I don’t want to spend time in such a place, thereby encouraging me to run away and dedicate myself to more work instead.

It has also meant neglecting my health, which to be honest is always one of the main takeaways from every annual review. I’ve made progress in small ways, such as finding a more convenient gym and regularly fasting, but I’m still eating too much processed and sugar-laden food. This is one of the main areas I want to explore and understand and find better solutions for this year.

Goals for 2024

These may change as I consult with the team and make concrete plans in the coming weeks, but here is a (roughly chronological) initial list of goals and intentions I’d love for us to accomplish this year. If you have any mutual ones that you think we could work together on, don’t hesitate to let me know!

For the business:

#1 – Launch Crea Tu Segundo Cérebro in Spanish throughout Latin America

My book was just released in Spanish, and over the next few months, my publisher will be making a promotional push in multiple Latin American countries for it. I plan on speaking at a major conference in Puebla in March and will use the opportunity to do some promotional events in Mexico City as well.

#2 – Open the Second Brain Membership to our full audience

We’ve spent the last few months building a new subscription-based community on Circle, the Second Brain Membership, and inviting our cohort alumni to be the first to join it. Soon it will be opened to the world. My goal is to create the most vibrant, dedicated, multifaceted community of practice around Personal Knowledge Management in the world.

#3 – Launch a paid version of an AI-based clone of Tiago

We’ve been sending our followers to an AI-powered “clone” trained on over 500 pieces of my content, created by a startup. The feedback has been so surprisingly good that we’re going to launch a higher-end paid version, using the monetization tools they’ve recently released. I’d love for anyone with a “basic” question that I’ve already addressed somewhere to be able to get it answered in a convenient, conversational interface using AI.

#4 – Launch our BASB Foundation course in Portuguese, Spanish, and German

We’ve been experimenting with a service that translates videos into other languages using AI, and the results have been so good we are now using it to translate our BASB Foundation course into Portuguese, Spanish, and German. The first of these is almost ready and will be launched to that segment of our audience soon.

#5 – Launch the first cohort of a BASB certified coach/consultant program

The last few cohorts of our BASB course were taught by third-party facilitators, and the results were promising, so I want to double down on the idea. I believe that teaching, coaching, and creating content on this topic is not just immensely rewarding but also highly profitable and sustainable, and I’m very excited about the prospect of enabling coaches, consultants, and facilitators to be certified to deliver our methodology as part of their work. Stay tuned for more details!

#6 – Host the second Wholesome Mastermind retreat in Sonoma

This was one of the absolute highlights of 2023, and plans to host it again are already well underway. We’re doubling the size of the group from 11 to around 22 creators and entrepreneurs, upgrading the housing and amenities, hiring a private chef to cater the food, and this time going to Northern California wine country. I’m finding that I learn much faster and more deeply from other entrepreneurs who are going through the same challenges as I am.

#7 – Launch a PARA self-paced online course

My newest book, The PARA Method, is doing really well, with over 25,000 copies sold and multiple new languages coming soon. I’ve always been surprised by how powerful and helpful people find this incredibly simple framework, and this year I’d love to make it even easier to get started with it via a video-based course.

#8 – Host the first-ever in-person Second Brain Summit in LA

It’s been a long-time dream to host a full-scale conference on the topic of PKM and Second Brains, and I’ve just signed the paperwork with an event management company to make it happen in 2024. Modeled on the Quantified Self conferences that used to happen in the SF Bay Area and the old Evernote conferences from the early 2010s – hundreds of hardcore nerds geeking out about the latest technology, frameworks, and ideas together in one place – I have no doubt this will be an event for the history books.

#9 – Add 211,000 YouTube subscribers

After adding 87,000 subscribers in 2023, which represented +62% growth, I’d like to accelerate that rate of growth by 50%, to 93%, and add another 211,000 subscribers in 2024. To do that we’ll need to find the sweet spot of the kinds of videos our ideal viewers want to see, and then find a way to produce them consistently.

#10 – Add 125,000 newsletter subscribers

After adding 51,000 subscribers in 2023, which was +63% growth, I’d also like to accelerate that by 50%, to 95%, adding another 125,000 subscribers to our weekly newsletter.

#11 – Grow to $3 million in revenue (+50%) and $1 million in profit (+250%)

I want to increase our top-line revenue by 50% to $3 million and grow profit 2.5x to $1 million. This would represent a healthy, growing business that is maintaining its margins and giving me the buffer and mental headspace to stay at my creative edge.

#12 – Buy our first investment property

This year I want to start to diversify our finances and purchase our first investment property, whether it’s a residential rental, a commercial space, a piece of empty land, or something else. I’m looking for someone experienced in such investments to coach me through the process of evaluating the options and completing the transaction, who would be willing to let me document the entire experience for public consumption. Let me know if you’re interested!

For my life:

  1. Make our household a calm, clean, organized space that promotes presence, peace, and togetherness
  2. Make regular trips to events, restaurants, concerts, museums, galleries, and other cultural experiences in LA
  3. Spend more time in nature with the kids
  4. Cook nearly all our meals from scratch at home from nutritious, organic ingredients
  5. Start playing the piano again
  6. Take my multivitamin every day
  7. See our friends weekly for play dates, lunches, dinner, or walks
  8. Work out three times per week
  9. Meditate for 15 minutes every day
  10. Take regular vacations as a couple, as a family, and with our own families and friends
  11. Be more present and mindful at home with Lauren, Caio, Delia, and Ximena, instead of spending time on devices, worrying about work, and mind-wandering

Open questions for 2024

To close out my 2023 year-end review, these are the open questions (which I like to call “favorite problems”) I’m holding as we enter the new year.

  • How can I make irreversible (or not easily reversible) decisions to preserve my willpower?
  • How can I diversify my sources of income and meaning?
  • What experiences do I want to have with Caio and Delia over the next 10-15 years while they’re small?
  • How can I integrate cooking into my routines such that it’s easier, faster, and more enjoyable than eating out?
  • What would life be like without coffee? How would I produce intellectual breakthroughs otherwise?
  • What would it look like to make decisions centered completely on what I want?
  • What does my jealousy of other people tell me is missing in my life?
  • What makes me most angry about the state of the world?
  • What do I see that no one else sees?
  • What can 130,000 smart, dedicated people not accomplish?
  • What is the right balance between quantity/diversity of revenue streams, and being able to maintain and improve them over time?
  • What would it look like to make Forte Labs a platform?

My business theme for 2024 is the takeaway from the mastermind retreat I hosted last year: “Curate people, not ideas.”

A personal note

These reviews typically focus on my professional life, but it’s also been a year of tremendous growth and change in my personal life.

2023 was the first year that my business felt like just one aspect of my life, instead of dominating my waking hours. For the first time, I can now think of it as a job that I clock into and out of at the end of the day, like a little game I play to accumulate Internet points. When I finish up at the end of the day, I can close my office door and put it all out of mind to a large extent, which never used to be true.

I think this shift is due to our second child, our daughter Delia, turning one year old and coming into her own. With one kid, you can more or less maintain much of your existing lifestyle, tag-teaming childcare between parents and in-laws and babysitters and pre-school. 

But with two kids, that all goes out the window. Now you have staggered nap times and feeding schedules. Each of you always has at least one kid to entertain at all times. There’s a lot more mess and dishes and laundry to clean up every day. And there are far fewer people willing to watch two kids for any significant length of time. We’ve had to completely restructure our lives and that is still very much ongoing.

This shift – from work-obsessed to family-man – has had both clear upsides and downsides. 

The upside is that my sources of meaning are much more diversified. When something dramatic or upsetting happens at work, like a staff conflict or legal dispute or failed project, it no longer rocks my world like it would have before. Who cares what an Internet troll thinks of me when I have a loving family who adores me at home? This has given me more calm, peace of mind, and confidence that I can sustain the business for the long term.

But there are also downsides, at least temporary ones. Having to relax my grip on the business, I’ve had to trust the team more to make decisions and carry them out. This week we launched a new program that I was completely out of the loop on, and it’s an amazing (though somewhat unnerving) experience to watch revenue come in that I wasn’t involved with. I’ve had to become much more discerning about which phone calls, collaborations, and projects I say yes to, as my working time is much more limited (my workday ends firmly at 3pm when it’s time to pick up the kids, which would have been unfathomable to my past self).

Stepping away from work as my all-consuming focus, I’ve had to confront the uncomfortable truth that most other areas of my life – especially my nutrition, exercise, self-care, home projects, and relationships – are in dire need of more attention. The only way I know how to produce results in business is to run all the other parts of my life at a low ebb, in “maintenance mode,” so I can funnel every bit of energy into work. That can be justified when the business is growing by leaps and bounds, but now that it’s not, I’m forced to recognize that I’ve been neglecting many of my “areas of responsibility.”

The reason this is confronting is that in most of those areas, I’m performing at a very mediocre level. My exercise habits are mediocre – just enough to not feel like crap. My diet is mediocre – too much sugar and carbs and processed foods. My self-care is mediocre – just enough to keep me sane. My relationships in many cases are mediocre – I’m not showing up for them in a way I’m proud of.

It’s kind of amazing to me that my sense of agency and self-efficacy can be so high at work, and so much lower in these other areas that might seem “easier” at first glance. I don’t feel unique, special, and accomplished when I make a healthy meal or go for a run the same way I do when I reach a milestone on a work project. My work often feels like a fun game with constant surprises and rewards, whereas the rest of life feels like a series of chores I have to dutifully complete.

The reasons and stories behind this disempowerment are another domain I want to explore in the new year. I want to discover what it would look like to feel empowered and accomplished in all of these areas of life, rather than sacrificing some in order to perform in others. I can sense I have a lot of underlying limiting beliefs about scarcity of time and energy that I’ll need to let go of.

Increasingly I feel that kind of personal growth and transformation is my real job. And all the products and projects and apps and frameworks are just implementation details.

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The post Tiago Forte’s 2023 Annual Review appeared first on Forte Labs.